Renovations referendum of $34.2 million to go before BH-BL voters on October 22
Tax levy would increase by less than 1 percent
After discussion sessions nearly every week during July and August, members of the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Board of Education have approved the final list of projects to be included in a Renovations Referendum that will now go before district voters on October 22.
On August 20, board members unanimously approved a referendum that would allow the district to spend $34,172,000 to update and maintain facilities in its five schools.
Projects in the referendum represent the district’s most urgent needs in four categories or themes as follows:
- 21st Century Learning Needs: $19,851,500
- Critical Infrastructure & Energy Conservation Needs: $7,524,500
- Athletics & Physical Education Needs: $5,027,000
- Safety & Security Needs: $1,769,000
Total : $34,172,000
This is the largest bond issue proposal ever put before BH-BL voters. However, due to several unique financial circumstances, if approved, the referendum would result in a tax levy increase of less than one percent, with most of the cost being paid by state building aid.
What does a 1 percent tax increase mean to homeowners?
Assistant superintendent Chris Abdoo estimates that for a BH-BL resident with a home with a market value of $200,000, the referendum will mean an average tax increase of $40. Senior citizens with an Enhanced STAR exemption would pay even less.
Abdoo calculates that 77 percent of the referendum’s total cost (principal plus interest) will be paid by the state in the form of building aid. Other factors that will reduce the share of the referendum that must be paid by school taxes include the Board of Education’s plan to use income from the eventual sale of the Hostetter Building, plus $1.6 million that the board intentionally set aside several years ago from the insurance settlement for the 2008 flooding of the Hostetter Building.
The Hostetter Building holds the district offices and — lacking any active classrooms — has received only minimal maintenance for many years.
Taking advantage of a unique opportunity
The largest project in the referendum involves moving the district offices into some of the oldest and smallest classrooms along the front of the high school and simultaneously building new classrooms in what is being termed a “STEAM” (science, technology, engineering, art and math) addition to the school.
“This referendum really does represent a unique opportunity for our school district, one that the school board has been planning to take advantage of ever since 2009,” says superintendent Patrick McGrath. “By moving the district offices into existing classroom space at the high school, we can leverage state aid for this project and turn the roughly $2 million in revenue we will have from the Hostetter Building into $8 million for new classrooms and high tech facilities for students.”
“Bringing some science, technology, engineering, art and math classrooms together into one area will result in new opportunities for authentic student research, career exploration, collaboration, and basically giving students exposure to the modern technical workplace,” says McGrath. “The school board looked at many other options for relocating the district offices, but no other option offered the many benefits of this plan. No other option would allow us to generate an extra $6 million in state aid and to improve programs for students so significantly while also solving the problems of high heating bills and deterioration at the Hostetter Building.”
Another advantage is that moving the district offices to the high school would reduce the district’s overall footprint by approximately 31,000 square feet. “This plan would allow us to eliminate some of our least energy-efficient space and replace it with modern energy-efficient space,” notes McGrath. For instance, even though the Hostetter Building and Charlton Heights Elementary School were originally built with the same floor plan, BH-BL currently pays more to heat Hostetter (which provides offices for 28 staff plus storage) than Charlton Heights, which serves 500 students and 75 staff.
Other major projects include roofing, sports and safety
Although many people had urged the school board to include more, or even all, of the $70 million worth of projects initially proposed for this referendum, Board of Education members whittled the list down to a cost they felt would be more palatable to taxpayers. They were guided in this process by the recommendations and prioritized lists of projects created by a 28-person committee of residents and staff, who spent months studying all $70 million of potential projects earlier this year.
Among the major projects that the board ultimately included in the referendum are $2.1 million to replace some of the oldest roofing on district schools , $2.7 million for 21st century classroom upgrades, and $1 million to add more electrical outlets to classrooms. Some of the district’s oldest classrooms now have only two electrical outlets, which is woefully inadequate, McGrath says.
Several high school athletic facilities would be improved too. The sum of $2.9 million is earmarked for a major overhaul of the current track and football field, turning this into a multi-use field. This overhaul would include replacing the track, upgrading the lighting, and installing a multi-purpose artificial turf field in place of the current football field. The turf field would be wider than the current field, wide enough to accommodate both field hockey, soccer, lacrosse and football. It would be striped for all four sports, and is expected to be in constant demand both for phys. ed. classes during the day and for community youth sports and interscholastic sports during the after-school and evening hours nearly year-round.
Safety and security improvements would include, at Stevens elementary school, reconstructing the main entrance and adding a secure vestibule for $250,000, plus $700,000 to redesign the school’s traffic pattern and parking. Adding a secure vestibule to the O’Rourke middle school plus revamping the traffic flow in the existing parking lot is expected to cost $770,000.
Much more information about the referendum will be posted on this website in the coming weeks including a list of all projects and answers to frequently asked questions.