LATHAM — On its quest to regroup and revise after voters shot down a multimillion capital project that would have upgraded most of its facilities, the North Colonie Central School District announced that it will hold a community conversation to gather input from the public regarding what should be included in the new project.
On Monday, Jan. 30, the district will hold the first meeting from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Shaker Junior High School auditorium. Volunteer communications specialists from the Capital Region BOCES will facilitate the small group discussions.
The capital project, which had a total cost of $196.4 million, was voted down 2,189 to 1,842 on Thursday, Dec. 15.
District Superintendent Joe Corr said that it’s still early at this point to tell what the revised project might look like, but the district has been analyzing exit-polling data voters completed on Dec. 15.
“We certainly are aware of the fact that, yes, we will have to scale down the scope of the project. I think that’s certainly one of the messages that was sent to us by our voters,” Corr said. “It’s caused us to reflect…to take very seriously and to listen to our community.”
One of the driving forces behind the capital project was an estimated increase of almost 1,000 students into the district over the next decade. North Colonie has, since the summer, been emphasizing the urgency of the project, due to the fact that the district is at risk of losing state financial aid for the project if it does not have a general contract for the project signed by June 30, 2018. Corr pointed out though some people have questioned the data that says almost 1,000 new students will enroll in the district throughout the next decade, it’s the district’s responsibility to respond to town growth. Just in November, Corr said, 15 new students enrolled into the district.
The district is now angling for a May revote on the project. But the later the vote, the greater the risk that state aid on the project will decrease, which will put more of the burden on the taxpayer’s shoulders. Corr said an effort will be made to get as much aid as possible, and that the district is “not giving up,” on it, but acknowledged that the aid is at risk now more than ever mostly due to timing. Hypothetically, even if the new project is approved by voters in May, it’s a month-long process for the New York State Department of Education to approve the project.
“I wouldn’t want to promise something to the public that I know that there’s a possibility where we can’t deliver on it, so I want to be very frank and open with them,” Corr said. “It will be difficult, though.”
The district is waiting until May to vote, Corr said, because of the desire to slow down, and make sure that voters this time around are clear on what the project will entail and why it’s necessary. He plans to have more community meetings and workshops.
“I think we need to take a deep breath, slow it down,” he said. “What are the components that are going to be included in the project? How are you going to address those issues? So, I look forward to engaging the community again and hearing their input, and being able to come back out with a proposal that meets the needs of our students, their families and our taxpayers.”
The district is asking that those wishing to attend the Jan. 30 meeting register online. A notice will be sent to all district mailboxes with a reminder this week.