CATSKILL — Catskill Central School District voters approved a proposed $40.8 million capital project, 308-259, in a referendum held on a snowy and icy Tuesday.
The capital project involves several improvements including upgrades to academic programs, classrooms, buildings, security controls, roads, parking lots and athletic fields.
Cairo-Durham voters recently gave thumbs up to a $28.9 million capital project and Ichabod Crane voters recently green-lighted a $27 million capital project.
“I personally thank all Catskill CSD community members who braved today’s weather to cast their vote,” Catskill Superintendent Ronel Cook said in a statement released by the district Wednesday. “Your positive vote will help improve our infrastructure, which will have a direct impact on student achievement. We are extremely grateful! Thank you voters! Cats Can, Cats Will, Cats Did!”
Tuesday’s turnout was higher than the vote for the 2018 school district budget last May, Cook said.
The district has 1,700 eligible voters, he said.
District officials announced Monday that it would keep the polls open despite the impending snowstorm. Catskill schools were closed Tuesday and Wednesday.
Now that the project has been approved by voters, the district will continue to develop the designs with input from teachers and stakeholders, Cook said.
“After the designs are complete, the plan is submitted to SED [state Education Department] for approval,” Cook said Monday. “We intend to expedite the approval process, which will take 16 weeks, instead of 30 weeks. After SED approves the plan, we can submit the items to bid.”
The total cost of the project is $40,795,000, but 70 percent will be covered through state building aid, according to a statement on the district’s website. State funding will reimburse the district 69.5 cents for each eligible dollar spent. The rest of the cost will be covered by the district.
Funding for the project would come from $4 million the district has set aside in a Capital Reserve Fund and from issuing bonds that the district would repay over a 15-year period, according to the statement.
For an average homeowner, the estimated increase in property taxes would come to approximately $8.41 per month, which would cover project costs not covered by state aid and the reserve fund.
In a recent newsletter to the community outlining the capital improvement project, Cook said the project was needed in part because of aging infrastructure.
“The project is driven largely by the age of the buildings, basic infrastructure that has exceeded its useful life, safety provisions, instructional space improvements and innovative indoor-outdoor learning spaces,” Cook said. “Many items in need of repair are ones you don’t necessarily see at first glance, but are needed in order to keep our infrastructure and buildings healthy.”
The vast project represents a commitment to the future of education in Catskill, Cook said.
“We’d like to preserve and maintain the integrity of our buildings for the next generation of students,” he said.
Other upgrades include a science, technology, engineering and math lab, or STEM, in the middle school and improving athletic fields. The lab will be constructed in the existing gym.
“A new gymnasium addition will be added to the middle school, as the existing gym is not large enough for classes or athletic competitions,” Cook said.
The lower athletic fields behind the middle school and high school will get drainage, soil and layout improvements, while the upper field will have a reconstructed running track, a synthetic-turf field for soccer and other sports, spectator bleachers and field lighting for night events.
“Synthetic turf will allow us to have more efficient use of the competition field and games are much less likely to be canceled or rescheduled due to field conditions,” Cook said.
Heating, plumbing, air conditioning and ventilation improvements are also included in the capital project.
“The majority of our classroom spaces are currently air-conditioned with portable A/C units that are free-standing and vent to the outside with a hose,” Cook said. “This is an air conditioner that is typically used in a residential setting to cool off a room. They are ineffective and inefficient when used in the school classrooms and are not large enough to adequately cool the space.
“We are including air conditioning in unit ventilators for each classroom that need to be replaced because they are beyond useful life. This will allow for more comfortable and lower ambient-noise classrooms, which enhance student learning and increase test performance.”
The district hired Bryan Manning of BBS Architects, Landscape Architects and Engineers to lead the project task force and U. W. Marx Construction Company as the construction manager.
The capital improvement project was proposed following a Building Condition Survey that is required by the state every five years, and then a task force met to come up with a vision for the district’s future.
The project was proposed to the board of education in November 2018, and the referendum was approved in December.
Residents had the opportunity to learn about the scope of the project through a series of meetings and forums.
Cook sees the project as an asset to the entire community.
“We held upwards of 10 meetings with the community-at-large,” Cook said Monday. “The critical questions were asked and answers were provided. The majority of taxpayers support our students. Our students are performing well in and out of the classroom. Our graduation rate is over 90 percent and the elementary and high schools are in good academic standing. The proposed improvements will increase the property value and attract more families to purchase property in the Catskill Central School District.”