School districts seek to undo costly efforts
Shortsighted plans blamed for reversals
SCHENECTADY & NISKAYUNA Just four years ago, the Schenectady school district finished a $6.1 million construction project to turn Central Park Middle School into an elementary school.
Next month, voters will decide whether to spend millions more to turn it back into a middle school.
But they will still be paying off the first loan. The district is just starting this year to pay for its share of the project, roughly $305,000. The district will take out bonds to pay the debt over the course of the next 15 years.
Superintendent Laurence Spring blamed the turnabout on the lack of a long-range plan in the original construction project.
“Having that kind of plan, looking that far out into the future, I think is critical,” he said. “We converted a couple of schools to K-8, but we didn’t have an articulated plan.”
Schenectady isn’t the only district still paying on projects that it may no longer use.
The Niskayuna Central School District may close Birchwood Elementary School. Just eight years ago, district voters approved spending $5.4 million to renovate that building and add five classrooms. It got brand-new windows, floors and a renovated playground paid for by the Parent Teacher Organization.
The state paid for two-thirds of the construction. The district’s $1.8 million is about half paid off at this point, according to district spokesman Matt Leon.
Closing the school is controversial, and at a meeting Tuesday night, some parents complained about the district considering closing it so soon after the renovations were completed.
Leon said the closure would not just be a cost-saving measure but would also maximize the use of the district’s facilities.
But he added, “There is no doubt that the loss of promised state aid continues to be a significant challenge.”
In Schenectady, much of the work at Central Park would not go to waste. An elevator was installed to make the building handicapped-accessible, for example, and that will remain.
“An overwhelming majority of the work will remain,” Spring said. “You’ve got to have updated HVAC regardless.”
But among the most expensive items were new bathrooms for kindergartners. Those were placed in each kindergarten classroom and would be ripped out in the proposed new construction project.
Lockers that were ripped out four years ago would be replaced, and counters and water fountains that were lowered must be raised again.
The proposed project would add new items, too. The school is slated to get better science classrooms if the project is approved.
Residents won’t have to pay for the new work as they pay off the old loan. The district is structuring the project to only use state grants.