$17M prop to update schools passes

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer
Tense time: Guilderland School Board members — from left, Jennifer Charron, Judy Slack, and Gloria Towle-Hilt — wait to hear results in close votes on two bond propositions. Slack had come with results from Altamont Elementary School, which mirrored the overall vote — the $17 million proposition passed and the $1 million was defeated.

Click here to see a breakdown of the results from Nov. 14.

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer
Ending the wait, Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders reads the results Thursday night on two Guilderland school propositions. Behind him on the Guilderland Elementary School wall is a painting of The Little Engine That Could.

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer
Getting results: After an anxious hour of waiting for tallies in a close vote, school board members— from left, Vice President Allan Simpson, President Barbara Fraterrigo, and Catherine Barber — smile after they hear that the $17 million bond for school upgrades passed.

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer
Looking up from her task, poll worker Joy Pierle, left, smiles as she counts paper ballots at Guilderland Elementary School Thursday night. The county had sequestered electronic voting machines after the Nov. 5 elections, so paper ballots were used. Next to Pierle is Mary Schmitz and behind her, reaching into the bin, is Nancy Bouteiller. Across from Pierle is David Hayes and next to him is Shirley Sousa.

GUILDERLAND — In close votes on Oct. 14, a $17.3 million project to update Guilderland’s seven school buildings and improve security and technology passed while an $846,300 plan to renovate the high school auditorium and better light the football field was defeated.
Six of the nine school board members waited anxiously at Guilderland Elementary School for results Thursday night after the polls closed at 9. Paper ballots were used and results from the five elementary school polling places had to be tabulated.

The results accepted at Tuesday's board meeting were mixed: 905 residents had voted for the $17.3 million proposition, which passed at Altamont, Guilderland, Lynnwood, and Pine Bush; it failed at Westmere. “No” votes totaled 792.

For the second proposition, 859 had voted “no” while 837 voted “yes.” The $846,300  proposition passed at Lynnwood and Pine Bush, and was voted down at Altamont, Guilderland, and Westmere.

“I’m thankful for everyone who came out to vote,” said Superintendent Marie Wiles after the results were announced. “Much needed work will be done.”

She went on, “I’m obviously disappointed that Proposition 2 failed…The community tells us their priorities and we listen.”

Board member Jennifer Charron, who had served on the facilities committee that developed the proposition, said that the committee, made up of school leaders and staff as well as community members, was divided and had long talks about whether the auditorium and field lighting should be included; ultimately, a compromise was reached, letting voters decide on two separate propositions.

The Enterprise asked Wiles if she thought having the second, separate proposition allowed the first to pass. “You could argue it both ways,” she said. “The committee made that decision based on good thinking.”

Wiles concluded that, overall, “We’re thrilled and very appreciative we’ll be able to proceed with needed infrastructure and safety improvements.”

School board President Barbara Fraterrigo said, “We’re delighted at least the maintenance items passed….If you let the roofs go, you ruin the walls and floors.”

She continued, “I’m disappointed about the auditorium. It’s not handicapped accessible and the lighting is poor.”

Fraterrigo concluded, “In these economic times, we’re grateful we passed the first proposition.”

A $13 million plan to expand and upgrade the Guilderland Public Library had been soundly defeated last year. While there was an organized campaign to defeat the library vote, Fraterrigo, who also serves on the library board, said she was not aware of any such campaign with Thursday’s school bond vote.

The last bond vote for school renovations in Guilderland was in 2007, before the recession. The $27 million project passed by a far wider margin with 60 percent of the 1,771 voters saying "yes" and with solid support in all five elementary-school polling places.

The cost to taxpayers for the $17.3 million improvement to the schools is estimated at  $65 annually for the 15-year life of the bond for a Guilderland resident living in a home with a median assessment of $246,500. The second, failed proposition would have tacked on another $3 annually.

Wiles had said earlier that approval by the State Education Department is expected by the end of 2014, and bids are to be awarded between January and March of 2015. The first phase of construction is to take place in the summer of 2015 and the second phase the following year.

The lion’s share of the $17,324,650 project includes $14 million for items like fixing roofs, replacing or upgrading heating systems, paving, replacing floors or windows, and upgrading electrical and plumbing systems.

“That’s the heart of the project,” said Wiles at a recent forum on the propositions. “We want to be prepared,” she went on, noting that emergency repairs would interrupt schooling.

Another $1.5 million is for safety and security improvements. This includes $593,000 to restructure school lobbies, with the biggest changes at Guilderland Elementary and the high school, so that there are double sets of doors. Visitors will enter a door into a vestibule, where staff can see them, before they open a second door into the school.

The security portion also includes $393,900 for office and classroom locksets that can be quickly locked from the inside; $259,000 to add more surveillance cameras; $177,500 for electronic swipe card systems; $31,300 for computer server upgrades; and $28,300 for visitor management tracking software.

Finally, $1.8 million is for technology improvements with the biggest portion, $618,000, spent on mobile labs.

Wiles stressed at the forum that it was not “gadgetry,” but rather “the power behind gadgetry,” and she said the upgrades would prepare students to “compete and act in a technically savvy world.”

As enrollment declines at Guilderland, the district has hired a consultant to study building capacity at all seven schools. Wiles said earlier that she hopes to have the consultant’s report, with six or seven recommendations, by this winter or early spring. Formal focus groups will then be held to determine which recommendation is the most viable.

Wiles noted it would have been ideal to have had the capacity study completed before the vote on the capital project, but concluded, “We will have options before we bid any work.” She also said many items have to be done “no matter what.”

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