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Chatham outlines plans for $13.8M bond proposition

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CHATHAM–Meeting for the second time in a week, the Chatham Board of Education convened another of what it calls “town hall style” sessions September 12 to brief the community on the proposed $13.8 million bond proposition to fund expansion and upgrades to the elementary school and high school.

The work is part of the overall plan to consolidate all students and classrooms at the existing elementary and High schools on the campus off of Woodbridge Avenue and to find a variety of new uses for the Middle School on Woodbridge Avenue, the oldest of the district’s three school buildings. The proposition to borrow to pay for the work will go before voters November 19.

The board and administration have structured the project in a way officials say will have no impact on local taxes.

Strong thunderstorms were still buffeting the area when the board began the meeting, and only about 15 members of the public attended. The board also held a number of similar meetings ahead of its vote earlier this year to consolidate the schools beginning in the fall of 2015.

After a series of brief presentations by board members reviewing PowerPoint slides of key aspects of the proposed upgrade and expansion project, district Superintendent Cheryl Nuciforo summarized the plan by describing its parts as interrelated and proceeding to highlight several of its features: more secure doors and added cameras; expansion of the gym at the Mary E. Dardess Elementary School to regulation size so that it can be used for interscholastic competition; physical improvements to the cafeterias to reduce the time students stand in line and increase the time they have to eat; new classrooms and a new fitness room at the high school to create separate spaces for high school students and kids in 7th and 8th grades; reconfigured technology classrooms and administrative offices; new seating with power and connections for digital devices in the auditorium in anticipation of state requirements for electronic test taking; and a separate room for the school orchestra–Ms. Nuciforo said that Chatham has the only high school orchestra in the county.

The entire list of projects will be available online at the district website, school officials said.
Ghent town Supervisor Larry Van Brunt questioned the promise that the project would have no impact on school taxes. “Is that a guarantee?” he asked. Assured by Ms. Nuciforo that it is, Mr. Brunt said, “You’ve done your homework. It’s a very complete plan. I support it.”
Village resident Wayne Coe, an opponent of consolidation, had a different view. “This is an educational bond to close a school,” he said. “That is an oxymoron.”

Ms. Nuciforo cited board policy to “provide the best possible education at a cost the community can afford.” She said she would not debate the issue of consolidation, but added that the plan to close the school meant “taking away one thing to make the overall thing better.”

The district has seen a steady drop in enrollment over the last few years and anticipates the trend will continue, dropping from the current enrollment of approximately 1,200 students to 1,000 within the next five years.
Board member Gail Day, addressing uses for the middle school, said the district will continue to use the athletic field. She also said the gym would be more available for the community to use. Although the school building remains in use as a school at present, officials are seeking proposals for its use in 2015. Some of the ideas floated to date include an expansion of the Chatham Public Library, having satellite community college classes held there, a business incubator and a daycare center. Ms. Day’s committee on the Middle School will make recommendations to the board in June 2014.

District Business Administrator Michael Chudy explained the financing for the $13.8-million project, starting with the state, which is expected to reimburse the district for almost half the cost. The district will use $2 million from its reserve funds and expects to pay for the rest with savings from consolidation, with most of that money coming from reduction in staff–a principal, a nurse and a secretary.
Ms. Nuciforo said the district would cut one teaching position the first year and one the year following consolidation.
There will be a public hearing on the bond proposal Tuesday, November 12.

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