By Kellen M. Quigley
On Tuesday, Dec. 10, residents of the Ellicottville Central School District will have an opportunity to vote on an $8.4 million capital project that is being proposed to implement various health, safety, accessibility and code compliance measures at district buildings and facilities.
Before the vote, the district is holding a public information meeting on Thursday, Dec. 5 at 7 p.m. in the high school cafeteria so voters can ask questions and learn more about the project.
“We haven’t had a lot of feedback at this point, but the feedback I have had has been positive,” said District Superintendent Bob Miller. “It’s work that we have to do to maintain the facilities. Necessary work.”
This proposed project consists of prioritized improvements and upgrades that were identified during the recent facilities assessment required by the State Education Department every five years.
“Just as one’s home ages and needs upkeep and repairs to keep it in good shape, so too do our schools,” Miller said. “Our district is committed to providing a safe learning environment and well-maintained facilities for students and public use.”
Prioritized renovation and reconstruction work is needed at the main building and at the bus garage. In the main building, proposed work ranges from health and safety improvements for the fire alarm system and main entrance upgrades; asset preservation and building integrity such as high school kitchen and cafeteria renovations stair replacement at the main entrance; and site improvements for the parking lot including new lighting and drainage.
At the bus garage, work including roof replacement, an emergency generator installation and parking lot improvements are needed.
Although routine facility maintenance and repair work is typically funded within the annual district budget with local taxpayers bearing the full cost, the large renovations, reconstruction, and replacement of items in a project like this would have a major impact on the tax rate if included in the budget, Miller explained.
“We want to have a school that provides a great opportunity for students, and if we don’t do these kinds of things then the building further deteriorates,” he said. “You run into things where it becomes more expensive to repair things and then you start worrying about safety. The potholes only get bigger. Leaks only get bigger.”
In 2015, the district’s architectural consultant performed a Building Condition Survey (BCS) that examined the district’s facilities and identified problem areas requiring repair or replacement. A district subcommittee studied the BCS items and developed a prioritized list of recommended repairs and upgrades.
“The District is addressing those issues now, rather than delaying and facing future higher costs and further deterioration,” Miller said.
If the vote passes in December, Miller said planning with architects and contractors would begin in early 2020.
“We’ll have more in-depth meetings with the architects and people who are designing things and the construction management firm and they start to pull everything together. That’s when you really start getting into more specifics,” he said.
State Education Department’s approval for the project would be received by late 2020 with the work going out to bid in 2021. The bulk of work is expected to start in that summer and it is anticipated the project would be completed in fall 2022, Miller said.
The total cost of the project is $8.4 million, about 53 percent of which will be covered by state aid. The remaining 47 percent will be the local share financed through retiring debt service and the local tax levy. On average, district homeowners can expect an estimated annual tax increase of about $17.76 per $100,000 full/equalized home value.
“The State Legislature has given all districts in the state an opportunity to use tax dollars to enhance their communities through school building improvements and renovations,” Miller said. “This is an opportunity to keep some of those tax dollars in our own community, working to improve the educational setting for our children and the public.”
If the vote does not pass, the critical safety improvements and building renovations that were identified by the BCS would still be necessary and have to be addressed, but without the benefit of state aid.
“The required work may instead have to be funded within the annual district budget, with local taxpayers bearing the full cost,” Miller said.
On Dec. 5, Miller said they’re hoping for a good turnout so people can learn as much as possible about the proposed project and make an informed decision when it’s time to vote Dec. 10.
“We have a great school system that does an outstanding job of educating students, and we need to do our part to ensure the facilities remain safe, that the remain function and that they are well cared for,” he said. “We need to make sure we’re addressing all those things to maintain a top-notch facility for kids.”
For more information on the proposed project, visit www.ellicottvillecentral.com.