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Walton BOE weighs Townsend options; opts to present new school proposal
During its regular meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 27, the Walton Central School Board of Education spent several hours discussing three options to address flooding at Townsend Elementary.

Board members talked about the pros and cons of doing nothing, of a flood mitigation and Townsend renovation plan, and of building a new elementary school on the Stockton Avenue campus. By meeting’s end, the Board unanimously decided to present the community with a plan to build a new school.

“As Jim Hoyt said at our meeting, the Board has been discussing the Townsend situation for years,” Board President Judy Breese said. “After the 1996 and the 2006 floods, board members agreed we needed a long-term plan to address the problems.

“In 2012, we agreed to tackle the problem in earnest,” she continued. “This represents three years of investigation and deliberation. I am pleased and proud that this board has reached a decision.”

Much of the conversation centered on the pros and cons of each plan.

Superintendent Roger Clough said the biggest challenge for the Board was to place themselves in the shoes of students, parents, community members, and staff.

“Any decision the board made affects each stakeholder group,” Clough said. “The board had to wrestle with each option before coming to any conclusion. It would be naïve to say they hit everything, but they put together a pretty comprehensive list of arguments for and against each option.”

Below is a general summary of the merits and possible issues:

Doing nothing
PROS
• No immediate expenditures
• Lowers taxes when current capital bonds expire
• Maintains school presence downtown
• Honors community’s ties to facility
• Keeps younger children separate from older

CONS
• Delays a real solution
• Postpones needed repairs
• Leaves students in a substandard learning environment
• Does not update facilities or technology or address energy efficiency
• Ignores cost of future flooding issues (repairs, mitigation, education disruption, displacement, labor, etc.)
• Forgoes opportunity to build new building without a jump in local property taxes
• Continues to pay annual flood insurance
• Continues to pay transportation to two facilities
• Does not address unsafe drop off/pick up
• Forgoes efficiencies gained by combining facilities
• Forgoes fuel savings from using biodigester methane

Townsend flood mitigation and building renovation
PROS 
• Anticipated lower cost than building new
• Reduces risk of damage during minor flooding
• Possible lower taxes than building new
• Honors community’s tie to Townsend history
• Keeps younger children separate from older
• Makes improvements to learning environment

CONS
• Fails to bring facilities to 21st century learning standards.
• Disrupts education during construction.
• Cannot be addressed in near-term
• Requires drop in tax rates followed by similar increase
• Forgoes opportunity to build new building in the immediate future
• Does not eliminate flooding issues (repairs, educational disruption, displacement cost, overtime pay, etc.)
• Potentially diverts flood waters to neighboring village properties
• Forgoes efficiencies gained by combining facilities
• Continues to pay annual flood insurance
• Continues to pay transportation to two facilities
• Forgoes fuel savings from using biodigester methane

One facility at Stockton Ave.
PROS
• Aligns facilities with 21st century education needs (room sizes, furniture, technology, etc.)
• Allows elementary students to remain in Townsend until construction is completed—no educational disruption
• Takes advantage of opportunity to build new building at current tax rates
• Takes advantage of efficiencies gained by combining education, operations & utilities in one location
• Enables staff sharing
• Transports students to one facility
• Eliminates elementary drop off/pick up safety problems

CONS
• Costs the most
• Does not lower taxes
• Loses school presence downtown
• Places younger and older children on same campus

Paying the bill

District Business Administrator Greg Dale said State building aid would cover 86 percent of the project.

The district could cover the remaining 14 percent without adding to the local tax levy. The key, he said, is that the community would have to vote this spring.

“We are about to pay off a previous capital project, freeing up approximately $400,000,” Dale said. “Applying those payments to the new project would pay the local share.”

He warned that some people might think it would be wiser to not build and, instead, reallocate those funds to preserve or expand educational programs. Dale said New York’s school budgeting rules clearly separate building project costs from regular operating costs. Under those rules, if the community chose not to build, the district could not spend those funds on salaries or textbooks. Instead, it would have to cut its total budget by approximately $400,000 to stay within the school’s tax levy limit. The savings from not moving forward could not be applied to other programs.

Moving ahead

Although the board has spoken openly about the various options over the past three years, Breese acknowledged that this may be the first some people have heard about these discussions.

“We know that people will have questions,” Breese said. “We are committed to making certain all those questions are answered, so our residents can cast an informed vote this May.”