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Salmon River to take capital project plan to voters in October

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FORT COVINGTON - The Salmon River Central School District will ask voters in October to support a revised $36.5 million capital project and a second proposition for an additional $980,000 for the inclusion of synthetic turf on the soccer/lacrosse field.

Changes

The information comes as part of a recent update approved by the Salmon River School Board of Education on Aug. 12.

The previous $36.6 million proposal, presented to voters in March, contained a bus wash, outdoor toilets, a concession stand and an indoor track, which amounted $2.8 million. These aspects of the project were found “excessive” by a capital project community committee formed after the initial version of the project did not pass. The new track especially would have required the destruction of a recently rennovated nurses’ office and faculty room.

The updated project stands at a similar cost to the original due to mandated inclusion of a new district water source by the State Department of Health. This mandate follows recent contamination problems with the school’s water supply after the district’s geothermal heating and cooling system leaked ethanol.

The school has been working closely with the Department of Environmental Conservation to remove traces of acetone, a byproduct of ethanol breakdown, from the water since February.

A new water source may be accomplished by connecting to a municipal water treatment system or through development of a new district system. Either will carry a cost of $2.4 million.

Since discovering contamination, the schools have been on a bottled water program that will not be lifted until the water treatment system is completely upgraded. Some upgrades have been made over the summer, and all are expected to be complete by the end of September.

No other changes have been made to the project.

Financing

Local representatives claim that the capital project will come at “no cost to the taxpayers.” This is due to a substantial amount of aid that will cover the majority of project costs. A combination of Native American Aid, Expanding our Children’s Education and Learning aid, building aid and district reserves will fund the project.

The biggest contribution at almost $20 million will be state building aid. This kind of aid is reimbursable, so it is funded up front by the district through bonds estimated at a 2 percent interest rate. According to the project update, the building aid would be reimbursed at a rate of 98 percent.

“These would be bank issued bonds that would be staggered over a three-year period with the largest borrowing coming in the 2015-2016 school year,” school Business Executive Natascha Jock said in an email.“To minimize the interest further we stagger the borrowing so that we are not paying interest on money that is just sitting in the bank while construction is in process. This also helps with the financial planning because it puts the debt payments more in line with the state aid payments.”

An amount of $750,000 in learning aid is available to the district for projects, but only $410,000 will be invested in the scope of the updated capital project. The remaining balance will be available for uture projects.

Native American Aid is dependent on the number of students living on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation when the capital project is approved by the state. Ms. Jock says they currently estimate the percentage at about 45, with a prospective $16.7 million in resulting aid.

The existing debt reserve for the project will be tapped for $407,400 to cover remaining costs. There is currently $572,000 in the reserves.

The Capital Project

School Superintendent Jane Collins and the school board asked community members to invest their confidence and support in this revised version of the capital project as it encompasses so many updates that are direly needed by Salmon River Central Schools.

““What’s important to the board and to me is that the community have confidence in our ability to expedite this project so that we can continue to have the best facilities for our students,” said Ms. Collins. “Overall this project doesn’t have a lot of frills. It’s focusing on mechanical projects that need updating.”

The scope of the project includes renovations and improvements to boilers, the water system, plumbing, roofs, ventilation, electrical, exterior, classrooms throughout all three school buildings, the high school gymnasium, the bus garage; asbestos abatement and field work.

Among the most upgrades are the approximately 147,000 square feet of leaking and deteriorating roofs, the 1950s and ‘60s ventilation systems, and asbestos abatement. Many teachers specifically requested the change from open classroom areas to multiple classrooms with windows and closing doors, citing the recent Sandy Hook shootings. The staff currently has an inability to shelter students behind a locked door in case of an emergency.

The wellness center is part of an attempt by the school board to combat rising child obesity in the district. Ms. Collins said some 30 percent of students suffer from obesity, and a number also have diabetic conditions. The center will include weights, treadmills, ellipticals, stationary bikes and other conditioning equipment.

Ms. Jock says that the district will look into staffing the center with volunteers or retirees after hours.

The Fields

Proposed as a separate entity from the updated capital project is a proposition to fund the installation of synthetic turf on the soccer/lacrosse fields. This is after a significant number of people expressed some interest in the possiblity of turf during capital project community committee meetings.

There are many positive aspects of synthetic turf in the north country, school officials say.

Spring weather adversely affects field conditions. Grass fields can take weeks before they’re ready for practices, but a turf field can be played on without any difficulty. Synthetic turf does not require the same amount of care as live grass fields.

However, turf fields are projected to last an average of 11 years before requiring replacement. New York state aid will only replace rennovations after a 15-year timeframe. Hence, if the turf field were to fail before 15 years had passed, a likelihood considering their average lifetime, the costs would fall to the district and subsequently the taxpayers. A replacement field would cost around $500,000.

To assure its continued use and eventual replacement, the district would have to set up an additional reserve over the next 10 years that would create a $50,000 annual impact on taxpayers. Without a reserve, a failed field could not be replaced and could not be used for athletic events for safety reasons.

“Our athletic program would really benefit from it,” said Salmon River Athletic Coordinator Shawn Miller. “I would love to have it, but only if it can be put into the budget without affecting the taxpayers.”

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