2009-08-14 / Front Page

School Board Sets Date For Public Vote on Bond

By Stephanie Petrellese

The Garden City Board of Education unanimously voted to set October 27th as the date to hold a public referendum on a bond totaling $36.5 million to fund capital improvements throughout the district. The vote will take place in the gymnasium at the Garden City High School from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

"Certainly the administration believes that this is the best way to address some very significant facilities needs affecting the health and safety of our students, and also to address some educational programming needs to ensure the community's investment in the schools pays off in outstanding pupil performance," said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Feirsen at the August 11th meeting of the Garden City Board of Education.

"I certainly hope, from my point of view, that the community understands the importance of this," he said. "These alterations, additions, renovations and repairs are beyond the ability of the district to fund in any one particular budget; to do so would cripple the budget and prevent us from the delivering the educational services that you expect."

He said the best way to deal with the situation is to propose a bond, which will alleviate the immediate pressure on the budget and allow those who not only currently use the schools, but also those who will benefit from the schools in the future, to be responsible for sharing the cost.

Dr. Feirsen said residents will be provided with much more information in the forthcoming weeks. Project details and voting information will be mailed to each home in the district. Regular updates are expected to be posted on the district's Web site, www.gardencity.k12.ny.us.

The Garden City PTA has already planned to host a meeting with school district officials to discuss the bond and answer questions about planned projects and financing. The meeting will be held at Garden City High School on Thursday, October 8th, at 7:30 p.m.

School Board President Colleen E. Foley emphasized that the school board will make every effort to keep the public informed. "I wholeheartedly support this initiative," she said. "It is the right thing to do now. We will try to be as transparent and answer as many questions in as many ways and in as many places so that people can make the best informed decision for where they are in their lives, and what we hope they recognize is that we need is to do this in this district."

If passed, the bond will address health and safety issues at all buildings, including the bus garage and administration building. One of the top items needed is a new roof at the high school. Although Dr. Feirsen said "all buildings need work," the ad hoc facilities committee designated Homestead School, the Middle School and High School as in a greater need for more space. Dr. Feirsen said this will result in significant programming enhancements.

The ad hoc facilities committee was formed in March, 2008 to study the possibility of issuing a bond to fund capital improvements in the district. School Board Trustee Angela Heineman, who serves as the board's liaison to the ad hoc facilities committee, commended the group's work, which she described as a "deliberate, methodical, in-depth review" of various things to be considered, including demographics, technology and district infrastructure.

"The result of that is being put forward tonight in what really amounts to a capital preservation plan and a plan of program improvements not just for the short term but really for the next five to 10 years," she said. "It represents a vision that really attempts to align our program goals, our educational goals, the goals we have for our students and it really attempts to get our facilities in line with those goals. I wholeheartedly support this and I am very grateful that I have been a part of the process that has started with millions of dollars more in potential items that have been really strategically and prudently pared down to where we are now."

Architects from Burton, Behrendt and Smith, a Long Island-based, multi-discipline architectural and engineering firm specializing in educational design, originally presented the district's ad hoc facilities committee with a total of $45.19 million for all facility and program-driven projects. In May, BBS was able to reduce the total bond being considered from $45,188,228 to $35,063,382.

The firm made a total of $4,332,450 in reductions to facility-driven projects. A total of $837,000 was removed after administrators met with architect Roger P. Smith to determine what smaller-scale projects could be included in the annual capital budget as opposed to a bond initiative. The firm cut $3.4 million in projects which they identified as those that can be postponed. In another attempt at cost-cutting, the scope of four to six projects was reduced.The firm was able to make an additional $4,392,393 cut in spatial, or program-driven projects, at the Middle School. Originally, renovations at the Middle School included adding a gymnasium, reconfiguring the parking lots and renovating the south gymnasium for other purposes. The firm now recommends making a multi-use space Smith referred to as a "gym station," and a corridor which would allow for circulation round the building.

The district is looking to fund some of the projects with $1,354,584 in New York State EXCEL funds, which the district is legally required to include in the total bond amount. The EXCEL (Expanding our Children's Education and Learning) grant allows districts to make improvements to education technology, health and safety areas, energy and physical capacity expansion or school construction. The public must vote on whether or not to opt into the program to be eligible for the funds. The district can only take advantage of the grant once.

The last time the school district sought public approval for a capital improvement bond was in 1998. The bond totaled $37,856,000.

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