$39 million capital project got BOCES superintendent on whirlwind tour
Ulster BOCES’ whirlwind tour of local school districts hit Saugerties recently as Superintendent Charles Khoury shared plans for a $39 million capital project for improvements to their Port Ewen and New Paltz locations . If districts like Saugerties approved the plan, Khoury said, they would have greater flexibility in how to structure funding.
Khoury and Charles Bastian, CEO of Bernard P. Donegan, Inc., a financial planner at Victor, made their presentation at a Saugerties Central School District (SCSD) school board meeting Nov. 9. Khoury detailed the complexities of a four-year project that would begin in 2024, mostly undertaken when students are not in class.
Ulster County’s eight school districts would pay for the project based on their use of BOCES, with around 61% of the cost reimbursed by state aid. The SCSD’s share would be approximately $5 million. Other local districts include Kingston ($11.9 million), New Paltz ($4.2 million) and Onteora ($2.4 million).
The project would largely focus on BOCES’ Port Ewen facilities, with $21 million earmarked for work at the Center for Career and Technical Education and $10.7 million at the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. The remaining $7.3 million would go to the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning at New Paltz.
But Khoury noted that the project is not just about the future, but also about the past.
“It’s important for the board to understand where we came from and how we got here today,” he said.
A countywide referendum for a $15.2 million project held on October 17, 1989 passed by a 2-to-1 margin, with $2.5 million earmarked for the purchase of the facility ETC in Port Ewen. Ulster BOCES had previously occupied the space under a ten-year lease that cost $300,000 per year.
The remaining funds were spent on retrofitting existing buildings and constructing a two-story special and alternative education wing.
“Before this, special education pupils attending Ulster BOCES were housed in a vacant Grand Union supermarket north of Port Ewen,” Khoury said. “From the newspaper articles I read, there were horrible conditions at this site.”
The remaining $2 million from the 1989 referendum was used to expand the New Paltz site by constructing a 10,540 square foot addition to the administration building and adding a 3,000 square foot storage garage.
According to Ulster BOCES, this inflation-adjusted project would now equate to $33.6 million.
Most of the component districts chose to fund the 1989 project over a 15-year period. If all eight school districts in Ulster County backed the proposed $39 million renovation plan, each would have a choice in determining how to fund their respective shares. The Kingston City School District School Board has already given unanimous support for the project, but others are being asked to respond between Dec. 7 and Dec. 16.
If the proposal does not receive full support, Ulster BOCES could still go ahead with receiving a simple majority in a public referendum, an option that would remove funding flexibility.
“With a unanimous inter-municipal agreement signed by all (school) commissions, you locally control how you fund your component share,” Bastian said. “Whether you want to do it in cash over four or five years, funding over seven years, funding over 20 years, you control those decisions locally. Which would be very nice, certainly rather than one size fits all.
Funding flexibility can have a strong appeal for the SCSD. The meeting was held at Mt. Marion Elementary School, where prior to the BOCES presentation, school officials heard from a dozen community members who were upset over the possibility of the school being closed, in party to overcome a looming budget shortfall of $12.5 million. the next four years.
“The public is very concerned about our financial situation, and they obviously want us to keep all of our elementary school buildings,” Saugerties School Board Chairman Robert Thomann said.
The schedule includes the entire year of 2022 dedicated to preparing detailed plans, with review by the New York State Department of Education between January 1 and October 30, 2023 scheduled. Tenders would be prepared, advertised and awarded between November 1, 2023 and April 2024, with construction expected to begin in July 2024 and be completed in the summer of 2028. Work would only be carried out in the summer to avoid disruption to BOCES courses for students.
“I don’t have another auto shop to move the kids to while we renovate the auto shop,” Khoury said. “I don’t have another cosmetology lab, I don’t have another welding shop, etc. We have a very small window to renovate.