By Greg Klein THE COOPERSTOWN CRIER
---- — Only about 15 members of the public showed up Tuesday night at Cooperstown Central School to hear about the proposed $6.6 million construction project to be voted on Dec. 11, but the ones who spoke out were skeptical of the project.
Members of the public were outnumbered by school officials and other representatives – and the crowd was nearly ten times smaller than the one which watched CCS girls basketball games down the hallway – but the skeptical residents were given the opportunity to have their concerns aired and questions answered about the project.
Questions about the size of the project, the need to tie many different projects together into one package and the timing of the December vote were all voiced by residents.
“It strikes me that the timing, honestly, to me, is suspicious,” said Pat Brady, “like you are trying to get those of us who are busy trying to write Christmas cards to ignore it while those who support it, vote for it.”
Since the bulk of the projects will not take place until 2015, several residents also asked if the vote could be delayed. However, Steve Thesier of the architectural firm Bearsch Compeau Knudson said that December is a common month for school referendums because of the need to begin construction during summer break. He added that in the past, six-months lead time on a project might have been acceptable but because of the need for state approval and putting projects out to bid, 18 months is normal now.
“We do a lot of work through New York state, and this December I know of six or seven referendums, not all of them are ours,” he said. “Time wise, December is not unusual.”
Thesier said that the State Education Department must issue building permits for public school construction projects and it is currently operating with a six-month backlog. After getting voter approval, and state permits, the school will still have to put out and award bids before construction can begin. He added that it is possible to begin certain aspects of the project in 2014, but major components such as fixing the parking lots and sidewalks have to wait until the summer of 2015.
Some residents questioned the scope of the project and whether certain parts, such as asbestos abatement, were critical. The known asbestos in the elementary school is contained but the tiling is nearly 60 years old and if the library carpet is replaced as planned, then the asbestos would be exposed and need to be removed.
“The scope of the project seems so huge,” Suzanne Guzy said. “You may look at them as being totally necessary, but I am not sure if they are all necessary.”
While admitting that some of the projects do not have to be linked, school officials said that it makes sense financially to tie them together. The state reimbursement rate for CCS is 71.8 percent under the Building Aid Ratio, according to Buildings Supervisor and District Treasurer Amy Kukenberger, but it would not apply if the projects were addressed individually.
Added advisor Benjamin Maslona of the firm Fiscal Advisors and Marketing, which advises local government agencies, “You might be able to put an individual project into a yearly budget, but you would not get subsidies. This way you limit the exposure to taxpayers.”
Wick Bennett, the CCS superintendent of buildings and grounds, said that some of the projects are dire, especially the repaving of driveways and parking lots.
“If you look at the numbers that is about half the money,” he said.
Bennett also said that he thinks the conversion to propane boilers and removal of an old oil tank is very important.
John Knudson, senior principal for Bearsch Compeau Knudson, said that his firm does get compensated based on the size of projects, or hours needed to design plans, however, BCK isn’t in charge of what a school board chooses to do with a project.
“They set the scope of the project,” he said. “We look at it and estimate the numbers, but we have no say about what they do or don’t choose. We’re just an advisor.”
This is the third time BCK has worked with CCS on projects. All three were in response to state mandated facilities reviews, which are now obligatory every five years. The first review came in 2000. The most recent review came in 2010, and the projects on the list are almost all from the 2010 review.
In addition, after the CCS Board of Education received BCK’s initial list of potential projects, the buildings and grounds committee reduced the list substantially.
The initial list of projects had a potential cost of more than $10 million, more than 30 percent higher than the final projected cost. The actual cost of the projects can’t be determined until bids are accepted; however the limit on the bond issue is $6.609 million. The projected tax increase is 19.5 cents or $19.50 per year for each $100,000 of property value.
Thesier said that he thought many of the projects would cost less than the projections, pointing to LED lighting as one component that should be cheaper in the future.
The vote will take place from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 11 in room 304-305 at the middle/high school on Linden Avenue. School officials said that if the vote fails they will have to readdress several issues quickly.
“We feel like this is a reasonable investment,” Superintendent C.J. Hebert said. “Some of the projects need attention sooner rather than later, while others are projects that we think are reasonable to do to invest in our students.”