Renewing Spaces, Inspiring Futures: It Starts With K-5
After nearly six months of meetings, building tours, and work sessions, the 2023 Capital Project Committee presented its recommendations to the Board of Education at the end of June. Throughout the summer, the board held workshops with architects and engineers to thoroughly review and discuss the Committee’s recommendations of high-need repairs and improvement efforts before finalizing a proposal to present for a vote.
At its August 22 meeting, the BH-BL Board of Education unanimously adopted a $53.93 million capital project entitled “Renewing Spaces, Inspiring Futures: It Starts with K-5,” to be proposed to residents on Tuesday, Oct. 24.
Every five years since 1983, BH-BL asks residents to vote on a referendum that includes projects focused on renovating, maintaining, and improving the condition of district facilities. These projects typically relate to critical infrastructure needs and upgrades to the learning environment that support district academic initiatives. The most recent referendums, overwhelmingly approved by district voters in 2013 and 2018, were centered primarily around projects needed to bring BH-BL’s middle and high schools into the 21st century (i.e., Science-Technology- Engineering-Arts-Math (STEAM) wing addition, major classroom and technology upgrades, safety improvements, renovated auditorium, etc.).
The proposed “Renewing Spaces, Inspiring Futures: It Starts with K-5,” is largely focused on renovating BH-BL’s three elementary schools to bring them up to date and align them with other district instructional facilities that have been upgraded over the past 10 years. BH-BL’s elementary schools are all more than 50 years old and were designed when instruction was primarily structured with students sitting at desks in rows facing a chalkboard. Many of the elementary school classrooms do not align to contemporary educational practices that require greater flexibility in spaces to allow for multiple instructional modalities and collaborative learning opportunities. Additionally, the buildings lack the space needed to educate the whole child, such as small group instruction rooms and wellness spaces. Furthermore, compared to seven years ago there are more than 200 additional students attending the elementary schools, which means structuring the use of the buildings with appropriate spaces to provide education is an ongoing challenge. And, projections show that enrollment will slightly increase over the next several years before leveling off.
“More than 100 years ago, the BH-BL School District was created from our residents’ desire to provide an opportunity for their children to receive a high-quality education in their own community,” says Superintendent Dr. Patrick McGrath. “Passion and drive created BH-BL, but community pride and continued support over the years helped it grow and flourish from one-room schoolhouses to a place people seek to live so they can send their children to our district. Our community’s desire to keep our schools up to date was evident with the passage of the last two improvement projects, and now it’s time to focus on the spaces where our newest learners begin their academic journey.”
What’s Included in the Proposal?
The “Renewing Spaces, Inspiring Futures: It Starts with K-5,” proposal is concentrated primarily on the following:
- Elementary Schools Redesign to Support Learning (approximately $22.34M) – Upgrading the aging and most outdated areas of the district’s three elementary schools by transforming classrooms into modern-day instructional spaces with state-of-the-art technology, improved lighting systems for a brighter atmosphere, renovated bathrooms, and flexible-space furniture that is more conducive for today’s learning environment. Additionally, a four-classroom addition will be constructed at Pashley Elementary School as well as a reconfigured facade for a brighter, more welcoming entrance.
- Districtwide Critical Infrastructure (approximately $20.48M) – Includes considerable repairs to roofing and HVAC equipment districtwide and fully renovating nearly all original bathrooms throughout the entire district. This also includes the construction of an egress road from O’Rourke Middle School’s bus loop to High Mills Road for more efficient traffic flow and improved safety measures between buses and parent drop-off/pick-up routines. Changes would also involve significant reconfigurations to the parking lots and bus loops to improve safety and traffic flow at Pashley and Charlton Heights. Also included are upgrades and improvements to the high school kitchen/food serving area, a reconfiguration of the custodial and food service receiving areas, and renovations to the Instructional Technology Server center, which is the hub and control center to the district’s entire technology infrastructure.
- Athletic & Physical Education Upgrades (approximately $7.55M) – Repairing the softball and baseball fields (i.e., water drainage, pitching mounds, dugouts) and constructing a multi-purpose, all-weather surface at the high school to be used for various athletic teams and as an outdoor physical education classroom. There will also be a series of improvements to all school gyms, some of which haven’t been upgraded in more than 50 years. This includes new lighting, structural repairs, new retractable dividing walls, upgraded fixtures, etc. The high school gym, which is used for a majority of K-12 large-scale athletic events and other school activities, indoor sports games and practices, and physical education classes, is also slated to be completely renovated in its current footprint. This includes a new floor and ceiling, new bleachers and sound barriers, new fixtures (i.e., basketball backboards, scoreboard), new lighting and audio systems, and a new heating and cooling system.
- Instructional Innovation (approximately $3.55M) – Includes completely reconfiguring and renovating the older, outdated science labs at the high school to align them with the school’s other science rooms. At O’Rourke Middle School, changes include completely renovating several special education classrooms, modernizing the Family and Consumer Science rooms, and renovating the oldest classrooms throughout the school.
What’s the Impact on Taxpayers?
The project carries an overall estimated tax rate increase between 2.44 and 3.41% or, roughly a 0.5-0.7% annual tax rate increase over a five year period. (The estimated average tax increase is contingent upon the sale of property on Jenkins Road and a final determination by the State Education Department on the aidability of the classroom additions at Pashley.) Additionally, the district will maximize the New York state building aid that is available for the maintenance of school facilities. BH-BL is slated to be reimbursed 76% of eligible expenses bringing the local share of the proposed $53.93 million project down to $12.94 million. Given all of the above, the district estimates that this project would result in an estimated $125-175* total tax increase to a property in the district with the median market value of $275,000* which would likely be phased in at $25-35 per year over five years.
*Updated September 2023 based on property in the district with the new median market value of $275,000.
“Regular, moderate-sized projects help the district to address the normal aging of our buildings, keeping our facilities modern, and our learning spaces up to date,” says Dr. Christopher Abdoo, Assistant Superintendent for Support Services and Capital Project Committee Co-Chair. “And, by financing projects in regular cycles, old debt is retired when new debt is incurred, minimizing the effect of construction on our residents’ tax rates.
Upcoming Community Presentations
In October, residents will receive a detailed newsletter in the mail about the project, voting information, and much more. Additionally, the website will be updated regularly with photos, videos, and other important information to help residents make an informed vote. There will also be many in-person opportunities for residents to hear more about the project and ask questions. Please join school leaders and members of the 2023 Capital Project Committee at the following events (below) or stop by the “Renewing Spaces, Inspiring Futures: It Starts with K-5,” informational tables at Homecoming (Oct. 7); Taste of Burnt Hills (Oct. 16) or any of the five back to school night in September.
- October 2: BH-BL High School PTSA, 7 pm, Principal’s Conference Room
- October 5: Stevens Elementary School PTA, 6:30 pm, Library
- October 11: “Renewing Spaces, Inspiring Futures: It Starts with K-5,” Community Forum, 6:30 pm, HS Boardroom
- October 12: Pashley Elementary School PTA Mtg Presentations followed by a tour of classroom spaces, 6 pm, Cafeteria
- October 16: O’Rourke Middle School PTA Mtg Presentation and tour of classrooms, 6:30 pm, Library
- October 17: SEPTA, 6:30 pm, Pashley
- October 19: Charlton Heights Elementary School PTA, 7 pm
Who Are Our Committee Members?
The Renovation Project Committee is composed of volunteers from all different interest groups, including community members, parents, students, teachers, staff, administrators, and board members. Their charge was to attend informational meetings that consisted of building tours and presentations by district teachers, administrators, supervisors, architects, and engineers. Based on the information gathered, they were asked to rank the proposed projects based on priority and needs.
“Each member brought a unique perspective and viewpoint to committee discussions that really helped the committee as a whole shape the aim and scope of the proposal they brought to the board,” says Dr. Abdoo, Committee Co-Chair.
Dr. Christopher Abdoo, Assistant Superintendent & Committee Co-Chair
James Ireland, High School Parent & Committee Co-Chair
Dr. Patrick McGrath, Superintendent
Dr. David Collins, Assistant Superintendent
David Barclay, Middle School Parent
Margaret Beaton, Middle School Parent
Miles Bechtel, High School Student
Brian Brewer, Community Member
Therese Brigham, Stevens Parent
Lisa Darling, Teaching Assistant
Chris Deso, Charlton Heights Teacher
Dan Diggins, BH-BL Director of Facilities
Megan Emerich, BH-BL HS Student
Kristi Fish, Pashley Teacher
Gerald Garing, Community Member
Susan Garrett, Community Member
Meghan Hinman, Charlton Heights Teacher
Cal Houghton, HS Parent
Cindy King, Pashley Teacher
Michael Mosall, High School Teacher
Lakshmi Nagarajan (ex-officio), School Board Member
Darcy Passarelli, BH-BL Special Education Assistant Director
Kristin Rider, High School Parent
James Robertson, Charlton Heights Parent
Randy Rose, Community Member
Matt Sargen, BH-BL Construction Manager
Kurt Semon, Middle School Teacher
Kristin Trapini, Middle School Teacher
Melissa Thomas, High School Teacher
Brad Thomas, High School Teacher
Sara Verga, Pashley Teacher
Matthew Waskiewicz, Pashley Parent
Katharine Weis, Stevens Teacher
Tom Wheeler, Community Member