Why build a new school?
Townsend Elementary is more than 80 years old and has been a victim to two major floods since 1996. Rooms are undersized for today’s standards, and technology is outdated.
With a number of current bonds being paid off this year, there will be no tax increase if we begin this project now. The district could pay for this building while still paying the same amount in taxes currently being paid, notwithstanding any yearly budget increases, which are separate from the Capital Project.
The reality, too, is Townsend Elementary is a dated building. The technology in the building is behind and if we were to try and bring it up to date, it would still be a massive undertaking. Classrooms are crowded and undersized (most are 100-150 square feet smaller than recommended for a classroom of today). There aren’t even enough outlets in most classrooms. Our kids deserve to have modern technology readily available. In advanced technology, it’s extremely difficult to “wire” the school. Even with wireless becoming more and more prevalent, there still needs to be hubs and hotspots, as well as a wired infrastructure to support the wireless.
We are in a unique situation in regard to bonds being paid off so to allow us to move forward with a project of this size without raising taxes in the community. In the end, though, it’s for our kids. This isn’t about adding luxury items – this is about making sure our kids have the best we can possibly give them to help them succeed in a more technologically advanced world. This is also about making sure our teachers have the tools they need to help our kids succeed.
This isn’t a decision that has come lightly. It’s been looked at and discussed by the Board of Education since 2012. With the factors mentioned above, the Board felt this was the best time to move forward. How much is the project?
The project is $23.5 million, which will be bonded over a 20-year period.
It’s also important to reiterate that this will come with no additional taxes as the new bonds for this project will replace bonds from past projects that are coming off the tax roll. What does the project include?
The main part of this project, of course, is building a new addition to the current high school/middle school and will be the new elementary school. The classroom wing will be two stories, while the supporting areas, such as the main office, nurse, music, gym, and cafeteria, will be one story.
The project also creates new parking areas in front of the main building, as well as slightly extending the current parking lot, which is located at the side of the building. Bus drop off and pick up, as well as parent drop-off areas, will be created to separate traffic into manageable zones. The physical number of parking spaces will be increased so there are more than the two current campuses have combined.
The current ag and shop classes will be rebuilt and moved to the middle school wing, to better integrate them with the current middle school/high school programs.
A new media center will be used for the elementary, middle, and high schools, and will improve access to technology for all students. What is the timeline?
Should the project be approved by voters on May 19, it will begin the four-year process to bring Townsend Elementary to the Stockton Ave. campus.
The design phase, in which community members, teachers, and staff will all be consulted, will go from June through April or May next year. Following that, NYSED will then go through the review/approval process, which takes about six to eight months.
The bidding phase is next, followed by the construction phase. It is anticipated construction will begin in May 2017 and last through December 2018. Following that, there will be a construction closeout, and commissioning. The summer of 2019 will feature moving in and setting up the new school and the first day for students would be in September 2019, which is also when the current Townsend building would be available for other uses. What will happen to the current Townsend building?
The plan and hope of the district is for an interested party to purchase the building and develop it. However, the Walton Central School District will still have to use it for the next four years if the project passes. Therefore, most interested parties or developers won’t be interested in making an offer on a building they won’t be able to use for at least four years.
The Board of Education is committed to making sure the building doesn't become decrepit, abandoned, or falling to pieces. It has agreed with the community about needing a plan for the building. In response to those concerns, the Board will be working on a timeline for what will happen to the building beyond 2019, as well as moving forward with creating a capital reserve fund. What happens if the Capital Project is voted down?
In the short term, you’ll see your taxes go down slightly. In the long term, it doesn’t solve the Townsend Elementary problem and we will, at some point soon, have to deal with the issues at hand. That will mean a Capital Project of some sort in the near future, which will mean your taxes will go back up. And, with costs of construction on the rise, it could mean a project will be more expensive in the future.
Going off an estimate of a 5 percent decrease if this happened, a person who paid $1,000 in school taxes last year would see a decrease of $50 (or $4.17 per month). A person who paid $1,500 could see a decrease of $75 per year, or $6.25 per month, and a person who paid $2,000 would see their taxes drop $100 for the year, or $8.33 per month.
Basically, for the cost of a few cups of coffee per month, we can give our kids a state-of-the-art building that will give them – and teachers – the tools to help them succeed. Why not just fix the current Townsend building?
A separate study was done to see what it would cost to fix Townsend and it was estimated at $15-17 million – and it still wouldn’t solve every problem, namely the flooding possibility. A flood study done in 2013 showed that the exterior could have flood gates installed, but the basement would still flood from below.
To do this, we’d still have to bring a Capital Project in front of the community so they could vote on something that, essentially, would be putting a large and expensive bandage on the school and still wouldn’t solve all of our problems.
This is an opportunity to do something more than just put a bandage on the current building, which is why the Board of Education decided to push forward with the full project to move Townsend to the main campus. How will this project affect traffic and parking?
Should the project be approved, part of the next step will be more in-depth traffic studies. Preliminary plans show that there will be more parking spaces than we currently have combined. There will also be a lane for parent drops offs, and a separate bus lane, for the new school. We are confident with the preliminary plans at this point, and realize further study and design work will be required following the vote.
The plans, as noted, are preliminary. We will be listening to the concerns and thoughts of the community and staff throughout the design phase.
What will the annual operating costs be to maintain the current Townsend building, should the students be moved to the Stockton Ave. campus?
The following comes from a relocation study done by BCA Architects & Engineering regarding the annual operating costs (these are all approximate):
- Electric use: $44,000
- Natural gas usage: $25,500
- Maintenance: $10,000
- Insurance: $18,000
It’s important to note, however, that these costs would be lower if it was an empty building, without kids occupying it, as temperatures could be kept lower, and there would be less gas usage etc.
If the building is sold and no longer owned by the district, it was determined through the study that the district would see the following savings:
How will elementary students be separated from middle and high school students?
- Annual energy savings: $44,000
- Annual maintenance savings: $10,000
- Insurance savings: $18,500
- Other savings: $30,000
- Total estimated savings (if Townsend is not maintained by the district): $102,500
The preliminary design of the new addition is to make sure it will continue to have its own identity, including its own main entrance separate from the middle and high schools. The design separates elementary students into their own wing.
The scale and materials of the addition will be developed to be warm and inviting for the younger students, with lower window heights, and other child-friendly features. How was the number of rooms, as well as the size of the rooms, determined for the new elementary school addition?
The New York State Education Department has set criteria that must be followed whenever new school space is developed. These guidelines were followed by our architect, and we reviewed the proposed addition with NYSED to ensure we met the criteria to gain their preliminary approval. Most of the new classrooms in the preliminary plans are larger than the rooms they will replace, which reflects the NYSED’s most recent regulations.