Approximately 70 residents, including parents, students and staff, listened to Broadalbin-Perth district leaders talk about the work being done to plan for an anticipated 2016 capital project during a public forum on Monday, Dec. 14.
District leaders anticipate putting a capital project proposal before voters in a referendum on the same day as the annual school budget vote, Tuesday, May 17, 2016.
Maintaining facilities, fixing problems
Superintendent Stephen Tomlinson began the presentation by reminding residents of the school district’s obligation under state law to complete a building conditions survey every five years. The survey team conducts a visual inspection of all school buildings and grounds to assess the current conditions of all program spaces (i.e. classrooms, gymnasiums), major building systems and their components, and site amenities. The purpose of the survey is to assess the buildings for evidence of structural failure or deterioration and to determine or re-examine their useful life, need for repair and maintenance, and need for reconstruction and replacement.
Tomlinson said Broadalbin-Perth’s 2010 building conditions survey showed the need for significant renovations or replacement of worn-out systems. However, the survey was completed soon after the district underwent a number of layoffs and program cuts in the midst of the 2008 recession.
“It just wasn’t the right time to ask our community to support a significant capital project, even though the need was definitely there,” Tomlinson said. “Instead, we chose to go out with a small project to address our most urgent needs and planned to do the best we could to keep everything else running.”
In February 2013, Broadalbin-Perth residents approved a $2.155 million capital project that included replacing sections of roofing, upgrading school security and purchasing a plot of land adjacent to the Perth campus.
Now that the district has completed its 2015 building conditions survey, Tomlinson said that B-P has more and worsening facilities needs than it did in 2010.
“We have some serious health and safety needs that have to be addressed, whether or not the community chooses to support a capital project,” Tomlinson said. Among those needs are the water chlorination system at the Perth campus, which the county Department of Health has said must be replaced; failing energy management systems at both campuses, for which replacement parts are no longer available; and repairing crumbling and heaving sidewalks that are tripping hazards and leave the district vulnerable to litigation.
According to Tomlinson, one of the district’s top priorities is addressing the lack of parking and dangerous traffic flow issues at both campuses. These issues are especially urgent at the Perth campus, which is located on busy County Hwy 107.
“When I was a teacher, teaching at the Perth site, I remember there was a student hit by a car while crossing the street from Perth Bible Church,” Tomlinson said. “It’s not an exaggeration to say that our parents and students risk their lives whenever they attend an event at the Perth campus. This is an issue that we just have to address.”
Tomlinson said the preliminary plans include relocating the existing softball field and tennis courts to the 42-acre plot of land the district purchased in 2013 and significantly expanding parking at the Perth site.
Tomlinson explained that addressing these needs through a capital project gives the district the opportunity to spread the costs of the work over several years and allows the district to take advantage of state building aid, which will cover more than 80 percent of the project costs. If residents do not approve a capital project at the polls, Tomlinson said that the district will have to address the infrastructure needs that can’t wait using funds from its general operating budget – likely resulting in significant program cuts to offset the full cost of the renovations.
“With some of these systems, it’s really only a matter of time before we have a serious situation on our hands,” Tomlinson said. “Take the water chlorination system at the Perth site. We test the water from that system on a regular basis, and thankfully, the tests have always come back fine. But the first time the water tests come back with an issue, the health department will shut us down – literally, we will not be allowed to open school – until we fix the system. And by then, it’s an emergency, which will cost the district a lot more money than if we replaced the system as part of a plan. That’s a risk we just can’t afford to take.”
The opportunity to innovate
During Monday’s forum, Tomlinson explained that when the district began looking at its critical infrastructure needs, it also began studying how to evolve its educational program to better prepare students for college and careers.
A group of parents, students, faculty, staff and community members convened during the 2014-15 school year to develop a plan for modernizing Broadalbin-Perth’s academic program. Several members of this group, dubbed the 2028 Task Force in reference to the graduation year of B-P’s first class of children to attend full-day pre-K in the district, were in attendance at the forum. Tomlinson said that a capital project would give Broadalbin-Perth an opportunity to realize the vision of the 2028 Task Force and meet the long-term district goals set by the Board of Education as a result of the task force’s work.
“We need to make our learning spaces more flexible and adaptable so they will be useful in a variety of teaching and learning situations, such as large- versus small-group instruction and hands-on learning,” Tomlinson said. “Right now, our classrooms are very traditional – and as a result, we have a very traditional academic program. But a traditional program is not what our students need anymore.”
Perhaps the biggest change that would result from a capital project, Tomlinson said, is the reorganizing of the district’s buildings to create an elementary school at the Perth campus and a secondary school at the Broadalbin campus.
“Teaching certifications in New York state are generally pre-K through grade 6 or grades 7-12,” Tomlinson said. “Right now, our elementary and secondary teaching staffs are split between the two sites. By grouping our like certifications together, we’ll have more opportunities to expand our programs and offer more electives without hiring additional staff.”
As an example, Tomlinson talked about home and careers, which is a state-mandated course for middle school students. When middle and high school students are in the same building, the district’s home and careers teacher could also offer a culinary arts elective for high school students interested in learning to cook for themselves or contemplating culinary career opportunities.
If the project is approved by voters, Tomlinson said the doors of the reorganized elementary and secondary schools would open for the 2019-20 school year.
District seeks feedback, additional ideas
Tomlinson said he has been meeting with groups of district faculty and staff to collect ideas about what they would like to see included in the capital project proposal, and he also wants to hear from the community. On Thursday, Dec. 17, representatives from such school groups as the B-P Education Foundation, Broadalbin Youth Commission and Sports Booster Club met with other parent, student, faculty and staff representatives in a community advisory committee to take a closer look at the preliminary project ideas and offer feedback.
After the holidays, Tomlinson said he plans to visit with other community groups and will announce additional opportunities for residents to participate in the planning process. Community organizations who would like to schedule a time for Tomlinson or another district leader to speak to their groups about plans for the 2016 capital project can contact the district office at 954-2500.
Residents can also leave feedback about the capital project planning process on the district website by commenting on stories related to the capital project at www.bpcsd.org/2016-capital-project.