Oneonta schools seek voter approval on $30.4M in capital projects

Nov. 21—Oneonta City School District is seeking voter approval on $30,450,000 in capital project spending that would not increase the school tax levy, according to Schools Superintendent Thomas Brindley.

A public meeting on the proposal is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 29 at the Oneonta High School auditorium, 130 East St. The vote, which is open to residents of the school district, is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday, Dec. 18 at OCS central offices, 31 Center St.

OCSD serves students in the city and town of Oneonta as well as parts of Laurens, Davenport, Milford and Maryland.

The vote is being conducted locally — supported by the Otsego County Board of Elections that supplies school officials with a list of registered voters — using paper ballots.

The scope of the work being proposed touches on all district schools, including renovating the libraries at Greater Plains and Riverside elementary schools, replacing the failing roof at Valleyview Elementary School, replacing Oneonta Middle School hallway lockers and renovating the aging auditorium at the Oneonta Middle and High School.

Also in the plans is an upgrade of the public address and fire alarm systems in all schools.

Every public school in New York state is required to conduct a building condition survey every five years and an annual visual inspection.

Brindley said Monday, Nov. 21 that some of the projects have been in the works for a decade.

After the last building condition survey, almost $51 million worth of repairs, replacements and enhancements were identified, he said.

Brindley stressed that there will be no additional increase in the tax levy — about 77.4% of funding is coming in the form of state building aid, about 16% is coming in savings from the "condensable amount of debt falling off the debt load," he said, and 7% from the capital reserve.

Last May, voters approved funding a repair reserve. About $2 million from that fund is slated to offset taxpayer impact.

There's also full state aid available for the roof replacement at Valleyview once the warranty expires on the current roof, which will happen around the time the district is ready to break ground.

"This is a favorable time for this project," Brindley said. "It restores debt, which sounds counterintuitive, but by replacing retiring debt with costs incurred by this project, we are able to maintain the current debt levels that reduce the risk of major fluctuations in the tax levy."

The spending is contingent on voter approval.

"Our mission to safeguard the long term investments in public education made by our community by upgrading and enhancing school facilities, so we can continue bringing programming to students," Brindley said.

In 2022, the school district had "considerable" debt retire, he said. The paid down debt came from previous capital projects.

OCSD has been working with architectural and engineering firm Keystone Associates, of Binghamton, and financial planner Fiscal Advisors & Marketing, of Syracuse — a firm which specializes in municipal government and school district projects.

The four major categories of the proposed work includes updating aging infrastructure, replacing outdated technology, enhancing educational programs and bolstering health and safety measures within the schools.

"The primary issues with all items earmarked for this project is age," he said. "Some of the items are original to the construction of the building."

At Greater Plains and Riverside, the exterior are brick with board and batten siding along the top quarter of the building — original to the buildings that opened in 1964, but beyond repair.

Valleyview opened in 1959, and since then an addition with a gymnasium was built in 1990.

The main portion of Oneonta High School was built in 1964. In 1976, the pool was added, and in 1984 the middle school was added to the East Street campus. In 1997, the high school science wing was added.

In addition to the major projects, incidental items include improvements to air handling and upgrades to the playground at Valleyview.

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