CLIFTON PARK — With the approvals of two capital projects now behind it, the Shenendehowa Central School District can look ahead to make major advancements over the next decade.
A $22 million project was OK’d by district residents — 2,238 to 973 — on Dec. 5, which will include the transformation of existing technology classes at the high school to create a STEM wing, renovation of high school science classrooms to create Next Generation Science labs and instructional spaces, and the integration of instructional technology.
In 2016, residents approved $16.6 million project that would see improvements to the high school library. Due to delays in the approval process at the state Education Department though, the start time for that project was pushed to this summer.
“Shen has a long-term, strategic capital plan, identifying needs to maintain and improve facilities over the next 10 years,” the district said in a statement. “There are currently extensive delays in the state approval process of capital projects. Recognizing that the time delay between voter approval, design, state approval and construction is approximately 18 to 24 months, the district is proposing a $22 million capital project with the anticipation that it would not be under construction until 2019 or 2020.”
The project will be partly funded through the Smart Schools Bond Act, funds from the district’s Capital Reserve Fund and state building aid. The estimated impact on the tax rate is 0.4 percent over 15 years. It is estimated that a home assessed at $250,000 will pay an additional $18 per year.
District projects stacking up is not uncommon. Mike Borges, Executive Director of the New York State Association of School Business Officials, explained that school districts routinely schedule their bonds votes so as to maximize the state aid they can receive on potential projects.
The sooner projects are approved by voters and sent to the state Education Department, the sooner they will be approved. If districts delay taking action on projects, they often see costs go up.
“Scheduling is a key part of it,” Borges said of the capital project process. “Typically, you want to get voter approval in the fall, so then you can go out to bid in the spring and begin construction in the summer.”
But the plan snags, he added, when districts have to contend with delays in the approval process. The Education Department, he explained, is understaffed, and doesn’t have the manpower needed to review all of the proposals it receives from various districts in a timely fashion.
Though the department does have the funding to hire more people, he said, it has been unsuccessful in recruiting qualified architects and engineers to review the projects, and has begun to outsource the work to private firms. There can be delays of up to seven months for districts seeking approval for various projects, he said.
Shenendehowa Board of Education president Bill Casey said that he has not heard concerns from residents about the backlog of capital projects. The goal, he said, is to get the capital projects scheduled as far out as possible.
“We think if we can get this on a master schedule, we can put together that plan,” he said.
Another important factor, he said, is making sure that district residents know ahead of time what’s going on.
“Were trying to maintain a predictability and sustainability for the taxpayers,” he said.
Casey pointed out that since the high school was built in 1971, the time to prioritize upgrades for the building is now.
“We feel this is the right time to do this,” Casey said. “We’re trying to figure out what works the best in terms of scheduling.”
The district has started to receive some approvals for the 2016 project, according to Casey, including the green light to start work on the library. His hope is to start the bidding process for the work this month.