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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, December 20, 2007

BKW voters say yea for $12.7M project bond

By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — In a landslide, voters gave the go ahead Tuesday for a $12.7 million project to renovate the Berne-Knox-Westerlo schools — the most expensive project the district has undertaken.

Of 378 ballots cast on Tuesday, 256, or more than two-thirds, voted for the project.

"I think it means that all the students will be connected," BKW School Board President Maureen Sikule said of the project. "The big driving force for this was the accessibility for the disabled. This is going to allow them to be connected with all the students in the school," she said.

Currently, four students — two in the middle-high school and two in the elementary school — use wheelchairs permanently.

Driven by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, plans include a new cafeteria, a new technology room, and new bathrooms and locker rooms in the middle-high school — all accessible to those with handicaps.

The district’s taxpayers will cover about $1 million of the total cost. State aid, based on a school district’s wealth, will cover about 80 percent of the project.

Superintendent Steven Schrade said that, as long as BKW keeps the potential tax impact to residents at a reasonable level, the majority of residents will support the school’s proposals.

Schrade estimated earlier this month that those in the district with a regular STAR (School TAx Relief) exemption who own a home assessed at $100,000 would pay about $6 per year or $90 over 15 years.

Those with a senior STAR exemption and a home assessed at $100,000 would pay about $2.65 each year — about $39.75 over 15 years.

BKW will now enter into a contract with Karl Griffith, the architect for the project, who will work with staff and some community members to finalize plans. The plans will then be submitted to the State Education Department.

Schrade said BKW hopes that, in about one year, it will begin requesting bids for the project.

During budgeting this spring, the school board anticipated the project. In May, BKW’s $19.3 million budget proposal for the 2007-08 school year was passed by about 66 percent; 575 voted for it while 293 voted against it.

Sikule said the committee of BKW staff and community members that gave input was very positive for the project.

Renovation plans to the middle-high school also include an expanded auditorium stage and renovations to the gymnasium, art room, and library.

Updates to the elementary school will include: renovated bathrooms, a new loudspeaker system, new fire alarms and smoke detectors, added elevator access on its ground floor, and a new roof over the main entrance and the cafeteria.

At a public hearing last week, school board members discussed adding a fitness center to be used by the community. Schrade said Tuesday that, using funds from the project’s contingency, the center could be placed under the locker rooms and an elevator could be added to make it accessible to those with handicaps.

"It’s a credit to the community that they’re willing to support an initiative this large," said Schrade. "It’s the largest building project, in terms of dollars, that the school district has ever embarked upon."

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