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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 27, 2010

BKW sticks with building plan

By Zach Simeone

BERNE — Having looked at a handful of alternatives, the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board voted unanimously last week to proceed with its original $12.7-million building project, as approved by district residents in a 2007 special election.

Some residents protesting tax hikes this spring had advocated scaling back or scrapping the project, though state aid is set to pay for about 80 percent of the overhaul, leaving taxpayers to cover about $1 million of the total cost.

The rebuilding of the library, guidance office, and art rooms will go out to bid separately.

“That’s just to give them an option to reduce the cost of the project if they feel it’s necessary,” Karl Griffith, the project’s architect with Griffith Dardanelli Architects, told The Enterprise. These aspects of the project were finalized after the public vote.

The board also appointed August Freeman as clerk of the works last week. Of the $12.7-million total, some pieces of the project have already been completed, leaving $11.3-million-worth of work still to be done.

The reconstruction was necessitated because the campus does not currently comply with the federal Americans With Disabilities Act. But, given the current economic climate, some taxpayers had come to recent meetings and demanded that the board find cheaper ways to make the buildings accessible to those with handicaps.

The board is also planning to weave into the reconstruction the energy performance contract with Honeywell, a $1.2-million plan to revamp the school’s energy-producing infrastructure.

Prior to casting their votes at the May 20 meeting, before a dozen residents gathered in a classroom, board members thought back to 2007.

“This is what they voted on,” said BKW School Board President Maureen Sikule before the board’s vote last Thursday, referring to the project as it was originally presented to the voters. “And for us to say we’re going to radically change it, and not go back out to them with that, I wouldn’t feel right by doing that.”

Board member Carolyn Anderson, who joined the meeting from Utah via Skype video chat, expressed a fear that the district, years down the road, might find itself dissatisfied with a lesser reconstruction than the one approved by voters.

Board members were concerned that some of the suggested changes to the project might require the school to once again seek approval from the state’s education department in order to keep the promised aid.

“Are there any guarantees on that money?” asked board member Helen Lounsbury. “That’s something we’ve always worried about,” she said.

Echoing Lounsbury’s concerns, board member Michelle Fusco asked if the district had received any written guarantee from the state that it would not lose the aid; Interim Superintendent Kim LaBelle replied that it had not.

District voters originally approved the project on Dec. 18, 2007. This included adding a new cafeteria, kitchen, technology lab, and computer classroom. There were to be two new locker rooms, and the gym would be extended to make up for space lost in other parts of the reconstruction.

The board will stick to that plan, which also includes these changes at the middle-high school:

— Rebuilding the gym’s exterior walls;

— Building a corridor to allow access to the new locker rooms from the gym;

— Reconstruction of the auditorium to allow access to people with handicaps, while adding ventilation and air-conditioning;

— Converting the current technology lab into a library;

— Converting the current library into an art room;

— Reconstruction of sanitary system piping;

— Reconstruction of exterior siding of the music and technology wing;

— Reconstruction of rest rooms to make them accessible to people with handicaps; and

— Expanding the electrical room.

Changes to the elementary school building will include:

— A new playground;

— Upgraded fire and smoke detection;

— Reconstruction of the ground floor to allow for a new restroom accessible to those with handicaps, and for passage between the gym and the elevator;

— Reconstruction of the second-floor girls’ restroom in the primary wing to improve access for people with disabilities;

— Reconstruction of the roof over the cafeteria wing.

Some pieces of the project were removed or changed in accordance with the energy performance contract.

The other options

The board had also considered a second option: Retaining most aspects of the original design, while eliminating the addition of new air-conditioning, library, and art rooms; moving the guidance office to the technology room; and using the current guidance office as a library classroom. This would have cost about $700,000 less than the full project.

A third option was also discussed: Redesigning the project to include the minimum amount of work required to make the buildings handicapped accessible. This would have meant no new locker room, but the cafeteria addition would have remained as it was designed, and the technology room would be converted into a boys’ locker room. This would have cost about $4 million less than the full project. Multiple version of this option were discussed, each varying slightly from the others.

Board members contemplated canceling the reconstruction as well, though the district still would have had to pay close to $1 million for the work already completed, some of which would have gotten state aid, and some of which would not.

“That would be expenses for the big project they’ve paid so far, such as our fees, engineering survey, testing, legal…anything they’ve done prior to hiring contractors,” said Griffith this week. “We’re getting ready to move to that step now.”

Board member Sean O’Connor said at last week’s meeting that he did not think the original proposal was “over the top.” He has seen that, when the quality of the facilities has improved, so have students’ attitudes, he said.

“If you look at this in a historical context, the original elementary school was built at the height of the Depression,” O’Connor told the small audience. “Eighty years ago, some people had the vision that this was going to be a school district that mattered.”

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