VCSD $2.7 M bond passes in a landslide
VOORHEESVILLE — In the midst of a snowstorm Tuesday that canceled after-school events, 183 district residents cast votes on a $2.7 million bond project, which passed 131 to 52.
Polls were open from 2 to 9 p.m. and the tally, including absentee ballots as well as those read from the backs of three lever-style voting machines, was announced before 9:10. Two board members were the only spectators in the middle-school lobby, waiting to hear the results.
Mary Flansburg, the head teller who announced the unofficial tally, with 72 percent voting "yes," said afterwards, “The people who came out to vote tonight in this weather need to be commended. Any vote is important for the kids. It shows people do care.”
The bulk of the money, about $2.5 million, will pay for a new roof over the 1958 and 1968 areas of the high school, which were last re-surfaced 18 years ago.
Water is leaking inside the building, Superintendent Teresa Thayer Snyder said earlier, causing an escalating problem of internal water damage.
“It is leaking badly,” she told The Enterprise. “There are a lot of barrels in the building catching water when it rains. There’s possible water damage inside the ceiling.”
Another $279,500 will be used to upgrade the network system and will include wireless access points in each building in places currently without coverage.
School officials have said that the current bandwidth won’t support online state testing requirements.
Finally, $78,000 will be used to fix damaged masonry on the high wall above the roof of the 1958 gym.
As he waited in the lobby Tuesday for the vote results, school board President Timothy Blow said of the weather, “It’s disappointing. I’d love to have seen a normal vote….By the time it really got bad, I think the polls had opened.”
The town of New Scotland, where the bulk of the school district lies, has 6,219 registered voters, according to the Albany County Board of Elections.
School board member Gary Hubert, who waited with Blow, added that it is not simple to postpone bond votes since state requirements set parameters on notices and meetings that must be held in advance of votes.
“And we’re trying to get the work done in the summer when the school is not in session,” added Blow.
Hubert noted that the State Education Department takes “a great deal of time,” in the wake of staff lay-offs, to complete review and approval of school projects.
Voorheesville plans to complete its project design by March and hopes to have approval in time to start accepting contractors’ bids in May. Contracts are to be awarded in June with the roof replacement and masonry repair taking place over the summer of 2014. The technology upgrades are to be completed in December 2014.
The $2.7 million project was pared down from an $11.5 million capital proposal, which Blow had termed a “wish list.”
The district’s assistant superintendent for business, Gregory Diefenbach, told The Enterprise in October, “What’s going to happen is we have this whole $11 million plan of everything we’d like to do. We sat down financially and asked, ‘Can we really absorb this?’ It was a pretty easy decision we couldn’t, so we rolled back and said, ‘OK, what are the things we really need to do in the next year?’”
Other high-priority projects in the initial plan, besides re-roofing and upgrading technology, included replacing boilers at both the elementary and secondary schools, and installing security systems, including cameras at both schools.
“Everything highlighted in the first plan was desirable but we decided it wasn’t the right time for the district to indebt ourselves,” said Snyder in October.
Last summer, a record number of Voorheesville voters — 1,778 — turned out to defeat a referendum proposing the construction of a new $7.6 million library building with about three-quarters voting against the plan.
The seven-member school board in October unanimously approved spending $555,000 from the district’s building reserves to help fund the $2.7 million project.
About 61.8 percent of the remaining $2,147,700 will be paid with state building aid, leaving the rest, about $820,000, to be raised through local property taxes.
The lion’s share of the district is in the town of New Scotland where residents will pay 6.7 cents per $1,000 of assessed value annually for the 15-year life of the bond. That means a New Scotland resident with a house assessed at $250,000 will pay $16.75 per year for the project.
Guilderland residents will pay 7.3 cents and Berne residents will pay 10.1 cents per $1,000 for 15 years.
Diefenbach said earlier that the district’s debt from past building projects would decrease significantly by 2021.
After Flansburg announced the bond passage Tuesday night, Blow told The Enterprise it made sense to cut back to $2.7 million for the essential projects “to make sure our finances work going forward.”
He pointed out the “difficult economic times” and also noted, “The tax base isn’t growing, making it more difficult to support a large project.”
“We needed to do something now,” Hubert said, not just because of the leaking roof but, he said, “because the funding available from the state might disappear.”
“A lot of things would have been nice to do,” said Blow, noting the “critical things” would now be covered.
He concluded, “Our plan is to re-evaluate in three or four years when we have some debt rolling off.”