CHATHAM–The Board of Education determined last week that the school upgrade and expansion project proposed as part of a plan to consolidate district students into two buildings will have no major environmental impact. The board also confirmed that the proposal will go before district voters November 19.
To address declining enrollment and what school officials as looming financial pressures, the district will move students out of the Middle School building on Woodbridge Avenue and into the remaining two buildings on the lower campus in the fall of 2015. Grade 6 will move to the Mary E. Dardess Elementary School and grades 7 and 8 will be moved into the High School. To accommodate the consolidation, the board has proposed a $13.8-million capital to expand, improve or renovate classrooms, labs, the high school auditorium and elementary school gym, and the road leading to the campus among other projects, mostly at the two remaining schools.
The scope of the project triggered a requirement for an assessment of the potential environmental impact of the work as defined under State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). The board , and after completing the assessment board voted to issue a “negative declaration,” meaning the proposed work will have no significant effect on the environment.
At last week’s meeting board member Craig Simmons questioned the wording of the ballot proposition, which in part asks whether the district may “levy the necessary tax therefore, taking into account State aid and the amount to be expended from the Capital Reserve Fund.” He said community members might be thrown off by the wording because district officials have said the project will have no local tax impact.
District Superintendent Cheryl Nuciforo said the language of the proposition is based on legal requirements, but she assured the board that because of savings from consolidation and state aide, school taxes will not rise taxes despite the cost of the project. She said the savings will more than offset the expense. Chatham estimates about $800,000 a year from the money saved by operating only two schools instead of three. The work, after the district uses reserve funds and state aid, would cost about $438,000 a year in debt payments over 15 years.
The community will vote on the project November 19 in the MED Elementary School gymnasium from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Also at the September 24 board meeting the board:
*Heard from Ms. Nuciforo that the district has been invited to join the Capital District School Boards Association. The association is now reaching out to all districts in the Capital Region BOCES and Questar III BOCES to offer membership. The fee is $200 a year.
*Approved an agreement with Auctions International, an online auction company, to sell surplus equipment.