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Vote on Schenectady schools project delayed to March 25

Wednesday, December 18, 2013
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— To make Schenectady’s huge school renovation project as inexpensive as possible to local taxpayers, the public vote will be delayed a month, organizers said.

Instead of holding a referendum in February, the vote will be March 25.

They announced the new date at Wednesday’s school board meeting.

The project would give the district three middle schools: Mont Pleasant, Oneida and Central Park. Each would house students in grades six through eight, while the elementary schools would all become K-5.

The project would also close Elmer Elementary School and add space at Howe and Van Corlaer elementary schools. All the work is slated to be done in time for the start of the 2016-2017 school year.

Originally, the district was going to hold a referendum in January.

But if the project is carefully designed, it might not cost local taxpayers anything. That will take more time, architects told the school board Wednesday.

The district could use a special state fund as the local match for the project. But that requires the district to design its renovations within the state’s spending limits for each school. Any spending above the limit is covered by local taxpayers.

The only trouble: calculating that is difficult because it’s partly based on the number of students. The district needs to know how many students will be in each school.

But the school populations are changing dramatically, particularly in the three middle schools. Mont Pleasant will become much smaller, Oneida is empty now but will be filled with students, and Central Park will no longer house K-5 students, only its sixth- through eighth-graders.

“With the sixth grades moving into the middle schools, we really need to review those” spending limits, said architect Michael Fanning. “Getting that right is why we want to take more time now.”

Getting it wrong will push more cost to the city taxpayers, because the local share will be higher than the other state funding can cover.

“I can’t emphasize how critical this is,” Fanning said.

But the renovation schedule doesn’t have much room for delays. The plan is to open the renovated schools on the first day of school in September 2016.

A delay could mean those buildings aren’t ready when school starts.

Fanning and his team said they would avoid that by beginning detailed plans for the renovation before the vote, while the exact spending limit for each school is calculated.

“We can hit the ground running after the vote,” he said.

 
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