Voters in the Bedford Central School District will not be asked to go to the polls until October, but school board members have already come to an agreement for much of what they want in the planned bond vote.
“I don't think we could do any less than what's in here at this point," said board member Lee Goldstein at the board's Feb. 27 meeting.
Each of the seven members of the board said they supported including items that are already proposed for the package, which is close to $31 million.
At the board meeting, officials gave a recap of the project, which now stands at $30,621,363. The cost dropped by $336,516 from an estimate in a projection given to the board just a week earlier, on Feb 20, because of a change to the proposed overhaul of West Patent Elementary School. That change involves creating two centrally located, enclosed collaborative classrooms in the middle of the upper-school wing, versus just one in an earlier iteration.
The remainder of the project, which is administration's recommended plan, remains the same as when it was first proposed on Feb. 20. The other changes include expanding the Fox Lane Middle School cafeteria, which also serves as a multipurpose space for students and was described at the meeting as overcrowded and far too noisy. The middle school will also get upgrades for the science labs and security enhancements for its "house" buildings, which would involve moving entrances to make it easier for supervising adults to see visitors.
Other parts of the capital plan include roof improvements for Fox Lane High School and four of the district's five elementary buildings; Mount Kisco Elementary School is the only one that would not be covered in the plan. Additionally, the plan calls for an overhaul of the aging water delivery system on the Fox Lane campus.
The current scope and price range being discussed now is a significant drop from an estimated roughly $75 million package that included items such as high school air conditioning and expanding the size of the West Patent building, the later of which would have had changes to its cafeteria/auditorium space and library.
Air conditioning at the high school received a thorough financial review for the board's meeting. The topic, which has focused on ventilation difficulities of the 3-story A wing that was built in the 2000s, has been a recurring one. Disagreement continued at the Feb. 27 meeting over whether to include it in the scope, at least partially.
While board members in general were sympathetic to the concerns voiced—they include difficulty in ventilating the A wing and rising temperatures during warmer months—five of them did not favor inclusion, with cost being the major reason.
Board President Susan Wollin—she's a mother of two Fox Lane graduates, one of whom was still a student when the A wing was added—felt the project scope should not expand, citing costs. She said, “you have to stop somewhere, and for me we're stopping at the right place, right now.”
Board member Erika Long noted the long-term cost and eventual unit replacement, and felt that it would only be a benefit for about 20 days out of a school year.
Board Vice President Eric Karle, who has had multiple kids at Fox Lane since the A wing was built, was adamantly in favor of installation, at least partially. He argued that the major construction done at the school last decade—it included building the A wing—included coils for air conditioning, and that it would improve classroom instruction. Karle said: “we're doing a disservice to the high school” by not going the route of adding it.
“I think it's incomplete. I think we need to do it," said board member Jennifer Gerken, the other dissenting voice on the topic. She agreed with Karle on the issue of student instruction, and would like for the board to take of tour of the building when it gets warmer.
According to the financial review taken, adding air conditioning to every part of the high school that was considered late last year would cost $2,076,797. This includes $998,373 for the A Wing. The science wing, also a multistory section, would cost $289,525, while adding it for the cafeteria spaces would cost $222,821. Additionally, replacing the existing air conditioning service in the auditorium would cost $311,406, while the price tag for a series of classrooms in the building's hallway near the glass atrium would cost $194,914.
Tom Briggs, the district's facilities director, came to the meeting with operating cost estimates. The numbers do not include maintenance and upkeep, however.
Assuming that air conditioning were to be installed in each part of the building that was considered and in having it run for around three months (May, June and September), the cost would be $13,000 to $15,000. The A wing by itself would cost roughly $7,200 during that time, while the science wing would be around $3,500. Cooling the cafeteria area would cost about $1,600, while the back rooms would cost around $600.
Asked why air conditioning for the high school was not included in the administration's proposed scope, Superintendent Jere Hochman described it as a financial decision. However, he did not dismiss the concept, saying "that [it] absolutely would have been next on the list.”
Skepticism Over $1M Fundraising for Track and Field
One aspect of the plan that may change is the funding financing for replacements of the track and turf field on the Fox Lane campus.
Under the current proposal, most of the capital plan, which stands at $30,621,363, would be bonded ($29,371,363), while $1 million would be raised for the athletic and recreational work; the remainder, $250,000, would involve fundraising for solar panels at West Patent. However, if the money for the privately funded projects is not raised, the intent has been for them not to go forward. This element, specifically for the turf and track, drew concern from board members, who questioned whether the work should only hinge on meeting the goal.
Suzanne Grant, said that, “I think a million dollars is a lot to look for from the community.”
“I feel a little uncomfortable about rolling the dice on that and saying, 'well if we don't get this that we wouldn't do it," said board member Lee Goldstein. "I don't feel good about that. I think that has to be done.”
Christina Dochtermann, a district parent who chairs a capital plan outreach group called the Community Investment Program, was skeptical about raising $1 million, based on her reaching out to others in the community.
“I think the million dollars is daunting.”
The track and field have been described by officials as being important to repair. The track has not hosted a competition for a number of years, it was explained at a previous board meeting, and Hochman recently warned that there could come a time when the turf field, which has a roughly 10-year life cycle, would need to be closed.
When discussion of the meeting ended, it appeared that allowing for donations was still on the table, but several members favored giving flexibility for a change of some sort to the financing mix.
Assistant Superintendent for Business Mark Betz, at the meeting, said that authority could be granted to bond for the whole amount but that private funds could still be raised, and that whatever is collected could be used.
Towards the end of the meeting, Betz said that he will need guidance for when resolutions on the plan are put together, and the language about the track and field could be revisited. Hochman agreed to reach out to the Fox Lane Sports Boosters Club and to see if there is a "doable number" for fundraising.
The goal is for the school board to vote on a formal resolution for the capital plan, which would allow for it to be put on the ballot in October, by the end of the school year in June.