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Bedford Schools Capital Plan Shrinks in Cost, Scope

The district administration's recommended plan would cost nearly $31 million, most of it through bonding. Items removed from plan include high school air conditioning, gutting West Patent pods.

The capital plan for the Bedford Central School District has dramatically slimmed down in price, while several items once considered have been dropped.

The modified plan, which is the administration's recommendation and involves a bundle of building fixes, comes in at $30,957,876. It is a large drop from an earlier estimate that placed the project - it included a broader scope - in the $75 million range.

Most of the project, at $29,707,876, would be paid for with bonding. The rest of the funds would be obtained through donations that would be used for replacing the track and turf field on the Fox Lane campus ($1 million) and for installing rooftop solar panels at West Patent Elementary School ($250,000). The full cost would still be subject to voter approval in a referendum eyed for October.

Currently, the district pays about $7 million annually in debt service, said Assistant Superintendent Mark Betz. The capital plan would add about $1.8 million to $1.9 million in new debt on top of that $7 million amount, while about $1.3 million for that interval is expected to be paid off. This would result in a net addition of about $500,000 to $600,000 in new annual debt service, Betz said.

The price of the capital plan has received more scrutiny.

“We've been talking about scrubbing numbers for a long time,” Betz said, speaking to the school board at its Wednesday meeting.

The cost, initially derived from early estimates provided by the project's architect, was adjusted after being reviewed by an independent cost estimator and a construction manager. It also includes costs for items such as contingencies, handling hazardous materials and "soft costs" for things such as paying for attorneys and consulting work.

Even after the extra scrutiny, however, Betz explained that the overall cost did not see savings.

To achieve the lower price tag, several items previously considered for the plan were scrapped, including central air conditioning for large sections of Fox Lane High School, a "gut" renovation of the academic wings (along with an overhaul for the cafeteria and a library addition) at West Patent, and a new corridor for Fox Lane Middle School that would have presented another way for students to go to class instead of through the cafeteria area.

“This [capital plan] is scaled back significantly," said Superintendent Jere Hochman. "We have a reason for items that are not on the list.”

In essence, the administration had to triage based on what items need more immediate work.

“We put in the buildings what we believe they need right now," Betz said.

For West Patent, which has not had a major renovation since it was built about four decades ago, plan's revised scope would include replacing the facade, roof, windows and ceilings.

The intent of the work at West Patent would be to keep out leakage that has plagued the school, Betz explained. Additionally, there will be work on the bathrooms to make them compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Key to the academic portion of the work is repurposing an open space in the center of the upper-school pod. Architect Armand Quadrini said it would include an conversion to an enclosed classroom intended for "project-based learning," with an emphasis on science, technology and math. Currently, Hochman explained, the open area is not suitable because it would mean more activity and noise near other working students.

Fox Lane Middle School would also get major work, including an addition for its cafeteria, which Betz explained is overcrowded. It would mean more instructional space because the cafeteria serves as a muti-purpose room, along with allowing for 112 new seats. The school would also get renovations for its science labs and lobbies for its house buildings, along with window and roof replacements.

New roofs would also be added to a portion of the high school, Bedford Village Elementary School, Pound Ridge Elementary School and Bedford Hills Elementary School.

Not receiving any work in the revised plan is Mount Kisco Elementary School, which Hochman noted got significant work during the 2000s and is “pretty much up to date with what they need.”

Meanwhile, the Fox Lane campus, which includes the middle and high schools along with the district's central office building, would get an overhaul of its water system. The cost would be more than $1.6 million, and Betz explained that water pipe breaks are a cause for needing the work. He also noted that some pipes have much smaller diameters than they used to because of corrosion.

Replacements for the turf field and track, which would be paid for through about $1 million in donations, were also cited as urgent. Administrators noted that the district could be faced with a situation where the turf cannot be used safely anymore. Hochman noted that it is used for more than just high school sports, but that it is utilized for community.

Security, which has become more prominent in the public dialogue in Bedford Central since the deadly school shooting two months ago in Newtown, CT, will be addressed through both the plan and in operating budget funds. This will include building sight line work for making it easier to view strangers. An overhaul of the middle school's front entrance, previously eyed for the capital plan, will be taken care of through the district's regular budget, Betz said, either in this school year or in 2013-14 if funds are not available.

School board members gave mostly laudatory feedback, although they are also being asked to come to a "consensus" at their Feb. 27 meeting on the scope they want. 

Board member Lee Goldstein called the project "very conservative," and said, “everyone appreciates that.”

“The numbers have come way down," noted board member Jennifer Gerken.

The only point where there was even the slightest hint of disagreement came over high school air conditioning. The building, which got a major addition and renovation in the 2000s, has the capability to accommodate it, while newer portions of the structure have been described as prone to overheating and being hard to cool due to difficulty in opening windows.

Board Vice President Eric Karle felt that there should be a “completing something that was started before." He also wondered if air conditioning could at least be installed in the 3-story A wing and in the science wing, which would have respective costs in the range of $400,000 and $250,000. The total cost for each portion of the building that was considered would be in the range of $2 million.

Board President Susan Wollin opposed the inclusion due to cost, and noted that an operating cost for air conditioning was not factored in.

Going forward, the board is being asked to vote, by the end of the school's fiscal year, to place the plan on the ballot for October, Betz said. An information campaign would be done in the run up to the vote. Should approval be granted, it is hoped that construction would start around summer of 2014 and be added in annual phases until 2016.

The capital plan itself is not the only major work that the district is considering. In addition, Betz gave an early estimated cost of $3 million to $4 million for an energy performance contract, where the district takes on debt that can be offset by energy savings derived from newer materials that are more energy efficient. The contract, which would require state approval, would involve having the district partner up with a company who would guarantee any financial difference if the projected savings are not realized. The school board can approve the deal without a public vote.

Additionally, it was noted that more capital fixes may be needed in the next 5-10 years, involving items that do not need urgent attention now but were identified as needing upgrades in the not-to-distant future.

A slideshow that lists the line items and costs for the capital plan can be found here on the district's website, and is attached to this story as a PDF file.

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