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Board of Ed Updated on Investment Bond Projects

Trustees consider approving additional ‘B list’ items

The Board of Education wrapped its final work session of 2011 with a discussion centering on the current status and accounting of projects funded by the $36.5 million 2009 investment bond. After it was announced that completed projects have come in under budget, board members weighed in on what additional ‘B List’ items may or may not be undertaken using the surplus of monies available.

On Oct. 27, 2009, residents approved Garden City School District’s $36.5 million bond referendum by a vote of 1140 to 829, to fund upgrades to all nine of the district’s buildings to meet basic safety and code requirements, as well as reclaim learning space for academic growth, according to the district’s website.

At the onset of the work session on Dec. 6, Garden City Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Feirsen explained that the purpose of the discussion was to provide the board with an accounting of expenditures of the bond to date and give them a sense of the projects. The second discussion point was to “recognize that there are possibilities to do additional work that have presented themselves that were within the scope of the bond presented to the community in 2009, but were what we called ‘B list’ items that we are now in a position to discuss,” Feirsen said.

Additionally, Feirsen outlined the questions for the board to consider on several issues although he said no action would be taken at this time. He told the board that if there are funds available that are not yet expended, they must decide if they wish to expend them by applying them to some of the B List projects.

“I hate to call them ‘B list’ because it indicates that they are afterthoughts. They weren’t afterthoughts. Let me just clarify that. When we started this discussion, we had a list of $70-something million worth of projects that were things that we could be doing, should be doing with our physical plant. The ad-hoc Committee and other members of the administration narrowed that down. We recognized that figure was beyond the capacity of the school district and narrowed that down to about half of that $36.5 million,” Feirsen said.

He explained that the district wanted to at least establish a list of projects that they were going to do first and now they are the point where they can look at the second list of items to be addressed. He said the board will have to decide what the priorities are going to be for those projects.

“You could say everything is a priority, you could say none of them are priorities or you could make any distinctions in between,” he said.

Assistant Superintendent for Business and Finance Albert Chase offered a recap of the expenditures authorized under the bond for $36.5 million. Chase indicated that as part of that total authorization, the district had $1.33 million worth of unspent capital funds that accumulated over many years going back to the 1990s for projects that had never been completed due to various reasons.

“So that becomes a deduction from the total amount of what we would actually go out and bond. The second piece of that was that we were told by the state, several years ago, that we had state EXCEL (Expanding our Children’s Education and Learning) grant available that would be reimbursed to us as offset a project pretty much of our choosing as long as it met certain parameters and that was $1.35 million. So putting those two together, we have $2.6, almost $2.7 million that was not actually going to come out of bonding but was other sources,” he said. He said that the bond ceiling is set at $33.8 million.

Chase added that certain completed bond projects include construction contingency monies, which are held in case of unforeseen conditions. “Hopefully based on what we’ve done so far, and of all the work we’ve done so far and that’s been bid so far, we’ve saved over $2 million, so that’s pretty significant,” Chase said.

In addition, Chase indicated that if some bond projects, including the window replacement at Hemlock ($1.1 million) and the boiler replacement at the bus garage ($120,000), will be paid for under the Energy Performance Contract, they will be deducted from the total amount of the bond. “We believe those two projects will be included as part of the Energy Performance Contract, therefore reducing that $33 million dollar number to $31.8 million,” Chase said.

The exact amount of surplus available for lower priority projects cannot be determined at this time because the Energy Performance Contract has not been officially approved by New York State, Chase said. “At a minimum right now, we believe that we have $3.375 million available to undertake under the so-called B list projects. So, with that in mind, I think that’s how we get to the number in terms of what we have available,” he said.

Chase said he couldn’t determine whether the outstanding projects will come in over or under budget, but the district has done “pretty well” matching the budget with expenditures. “If the projects go the way the projects have gone so far in terms of the original, let’s say the A-list projects, the ones that haven’t been bid out yet, if they come under, then we will have more of a cushion above it as well,” he said.

Among the potential B list items being considered are masonry repairs at several Garden City School buildings; fixing the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems at the high school; and the ventilation system in the Stratford Elementary; repairing the roof at Locust; and the replacement of electrical panels at the high school, which are 50 years old.

Vice President Barbara Trapasso advocated her support for replacing the electrical panels.

“I’m at a point now where this is bonus. This is like the bonus round...When I leave here I would like someone to say, ‘Gee, this Board really went ahead and did the right thing with the right money.’ The money’s here. I’m not saying we’re going to use all of it, but let’s use it for the right things and electric to me is important.”

School Board Trustee Laura Hastings expressed her view that the roof repair was a higher priority than the electrical panel replacements. “To me, I would put that ahead of the electric, which isn’t completely broken,” she said.

Foley said the board was not voting tonight and agreed with Hastings and asked to see bids on repairing the roof. “I think the roof needs to be replaced. It makes me incredibly concerned,” she said.

Trustee Tom Pinou suggested that the board consider changing the exteriorly exposed panels at Stewart and monitoring the others. “You can put them on a replacement schedule,” he said.

Feirsen reminded the board that they have a substantial sum of money to work with. “This in no way takes care of all the physical plant needs of this school district,” he said.

As the tax cap issue becomes more prominent, Feirsen warned that maintenance items could be affected in future budgets. “I’m saying don’t think that we’re ahead of point, that we have taken care of so many wonderful things and now we can say okay, we’d also like to do that and that might be nice.

“We’re talking about using the bond money as part of a strategic plan that enables us to address the needs as they come up. We can’t predict exactly where they’ll come up, but we know they are going to come up in one of our nine buildings... so at least we’ve taken care of some things and we don’t have to worry about them because presumably they are going to last for a long time. I just want to put that context on it because let’s not get carried away and think we’ve done everything that we need to do,” he said.