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October 10, 2013

CCS planning big construction project

Voters would need to approve referendum

Cooperstown Crier

---- — Cooperstown Central School is preparing a huge construction project that will cost about $7 million.

The project, announced at the school’s Oct. 2 Board of Education meeting, would need to be approved by voters, possibly in a December referendum.

The project is based on recommendations from Bearsch Compeau Knudson Group (BCK), an architectural and engineering firm from Binghamton that specializes in assessing and constructing capital improvement projects for schools.

Two BCK managers, John Knudson and Steve Theiser, made a presentation to the board at the meeting, with a complete list of recommender projects and price estimates.

Their total list of potential projects topped out at a cost of more than $10 million. However board members on the operations, ground and audit committee had already reviewed the proposals and determined that about a third of the spending was for projects that were not essential and could be addressed at a later time.

“It is important to understand the scope of the project, and the cost to the tax payers,” Board President David Borgstrom said. “It is important to look at it from an individual basis.”

Amy Kukenberger, the district’s treasurer and buildings manager, told the board there are two plans under consideration to finance the project. Under both plans the district would take out a loan and then finance it with a bond issue, and in each plan the project would be paid for in 15 years. The main difference between the plans is when the school would issue the bond, in three or five years.

Under a three-year issue, the district would have a more severe jump in cost payments in the middle of the repayment schedule. However, the five-year issue would cost more in interest payments, and that cost would be passed on to the taxpayers.

Based on a $6.5 million loan, the total project would cost property owners 19 cents per $1000 of assessed property values under the three-year issue and 20 cents per $1000 under the five-year issue. That would mean an increase of $19 or $20 in taxes on property valued at $100,000.

The construction would likely begin in 2015. Knudson told the board that they should attempt to get a referendum in front of voters in December, but to do so would require a final plan by the end of October. The next board meeting is Oct. 16 and it is currently the last meeting scheduled for the month. 

At the Elementary School on Walnut Street, the project would include replacing sidewalks and asphalt and expanding the front parking lot to include about 70 more spaces. The school bus loop would be separated from walking areas, and a drop off loop would be added on the other side of the lot from the bus loop. Outside lighting would be added with LED lights. A water line would be updated and fixed. New gym LED lighting would be installed. Gym locked would be repainted. Library carpeting would be replaced and the last known asbestos tiles in the school would be removed.

Several other projects at the Elementary School did not make the cut including, an upgrade to solar powered outside lights, replacement doors and a generator hook up for emergency services. Since the Elementary School is classified as an emergency shelter for Otsego County, it is possible the hook-up can be funded another way.

At the Middle/High School on Linden Avenue the project will include repaving the main parking lot and replacing sidewalks, converting the schools from fuel oil heating to propane and removing underground oil tanks, replacing the main water line from the school to the street hook up, replacing the hallway carpets, adding outside  and gym LED lighting, adding a bathroom to the autism classroom and replacing the wooden gym bleachers with plastic, handicapped accessible, motorized bleachers.

Several projects at the Middle/High School did not make the cut including, an upgrade to solar powered outside lights, a new parking lot near the gym, repaving of the bus loop, a network of security cameras and turning the walkway between the two school buildings into a driveway.

The proposal would also turn the shop area of the high school into a technology corridor with the shop class being reduced in size to add several art, computer and band practice rooms.

“We think this will be a vitally important area,” Superintendent C.J. Hebert said.

The proposals also call for re-roofing and resealing the walls at the bus garage.

“We felt that it was important to look at everything going on at the schools at this time,” Borgstrom said.

Kukenberger later explained to the board that with a substantial amount of debt coming off the district’s financial books in 2016-2017, now was a good time to begin a capital project.

The board also heard a presentation from Tim Doyle of the Bonadio Group, which preformed the district’s state mandated external audit. The results were broken into four categories, but were mostly positive. Doyle said that the district had no issues with non-compliance, received the highest possible assessment for standard budget matters and remains a low-risk auditee.

The only area of concern Doyle expressed was for extracurricular activities that are cash based, but he said the concern is standard with most schools based on high turnover of students and advisers having to learn the procedures. Doyle did point out that the state has detailed guidelines for best practices for cash transactions, and added that he felt CCS had done a very good job of implementing them.

“I will say our assessment is that it is much better now than it has been,” Borgstrom added. “It is a hard thing. We’re not the only school that has trouble with it.”