PALMYRA — Palmyra Macedon’s 33-member Facility Improvement Committee worked for months to come up with three principal recommendations to deal with building and infrastructure problems in the district: fix what’s broken, improve the learning environment in buildings, make a long-term plan for a single campus.
The committee’s report was presented in August. In the board’s meeting last week, the school administration sliced some of the more immediate recommendations to save money and limit the “fix what’s broken” project that will be voted on this year.
But four board members, including two who were on the facilities committee, objected on matters of message and substance.
Assistant Superintendent for Business Ralph Brongo, in concert with Jim King of King + King Architects, came to the board on Tuesday, Sept. 10 with recommendations for a “narrowed scope to the (fix-it portion of the) project.”
Brongo explained that the administration and architects had looked at the facility improvement committee’s recommendations through a new lens, one that took into consideration the prospect that a few years after this project was complete, the district might be consolidating all its buildings onto one campus.
Should that consolidation occur and the primary and intermediate buildings no longer needed for their present purpose, the district might be spending money needlessly on those buildings, said Brongo.
He even pointed out that the high school itself could be “repurposed” for something other than – or in addition to – what it is being used for now.
Using that new lens, Brongo and King suggested the district lay aside some portions of the committee’s recommended projects – a concrete handicapped-access ramp for the primary school, for instance, or reconstruction of 9 or 10 toilet rooms in the high school.
“The toilet rooms don’t look fantastic,” Brongo told the board, “but there’s a chance this building might not be grades 9 through 12 and our restroom needs may be different.”
Same thing for a clock and public address system rebuild that was taken off the list: “Consolidation could potentially change the clock/bell/public address requirements at the high school … we may not have grade 9-12 students here.”
“We’ll have a hard time explaining to people (on the committee) who went through the (building) walk-throughs that we’re going in a completely opposite direction from what they recommended,” said board member Bill Toomey. “Their efforts are being ignored.” He said the committee had stressed addressing health and safety issues, but some of those were being abandoned.
“Health and safety issues should be the top things that should be looked at,” agreed board member Don Miller.
“We have to answer to the community,” Toomey said.
Brongo said the board would be discussing a single-campus possibility for the next two years. As for investing in buildings that could be closed, “would it look like a waste of money? We could literally be throwing aid out the window.”
He reminded the board if the fix-it project were approved for state aid, that aid could disappear “if we ever sold the building” because state aid is apportioned over a number of years, and if the building no longer had an educational use, the funding repayments would be negated.
Toomey argued that the district had a history of backing up on work like this.
“We put off a lot of projects over a lot of years in this school district, and now we’re maxing out,” he said.
“We’re walking a fine line,” said Miller. “How can we tell taxpayers we dumped all this money into a school and now we’re dumping it (the school).”
Board member Beth Grier-Leva said it was important for the community to know that because of the way state aid is handled, “we’re being fiscally responsible” in making changes to the project.
Brongo suggested that he and King would revisit the health and safety items for the board at the Oct. 8 meeting “and explain why recommended items are not in the plan and what we intend to do. We will not put students in danger or violate environmental concerns.”
He said the project, even scaled down, would cost out somewhere between $5.5 million and $7 million, with $1.5 to $1.9 million coming from the district’s capital reserve, which now stands at $4.6 million. Asked what kind of project the district could entertain without costing taxpayers more, Brongo said “$17 million in work without new taxes,” using all of the capital reserve.
“We’re going to our constituents in December with an interesting plan,” said board member John Kratzert. “The goal is to get them to agree.”
“I just don’t want it to be understood that we had a direction and we took a detour: is the approach we’re taking as a district valid for the long term?” asked Toomey.
“You don’t want to spend money on something, then have to pull it out or tear it out because of consolidation,” said King. “That won’t look good on a second (to consolidate) vote. Many of the items we’ve discussed can be included in the next project.”
“We’ve talked about one campus forever,” said resident Rene Herman. “We need to know where we’re going and what we need to get there.”
The board will hear from Brongo and King in October, with the board’s vote on the fix-it project due Oct. 22 and the public referendum vote on the project scheduled for December. Construction would begin in 2015, if approved.