News Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.
The Chappaqua Board of Education unanimously approved last week holding a referendum for a $45.3M infrastructure and facilities bond issue on Nov. 29, addressing an extensive list of projects that would impact every school in the district.
Voters will decide on two separate propositions; the first for $33,985,000 that will encompass 17 main infrastructure items, including roof replacement on all of the district’s school buildings for an estimated $8.5 million and districtwide network and fiber optics upgrades for nearly $5 million.
Proposition 2 asks taxpayers to borrow up to another $11,340,000 to create a single point of entry at Horace Greeley High School for all students and staff, a measure that was recommended to the district during its security audit. It would also require reconfiguration of the school’s lobby.
The price tag for the two propositions includes $787,000 in capitalized interest costs.
Throughout the review of potential items this year, school officials have said that infrastructure items haven’t been addressed in a bond in almost 30 years. The Chappaqua School District’s last two major referendums were the $42.5 million vote in 2016 to make alterations and improvements to the schools and the Chappaqua Public Library and the $56.7 million bond vote in 2000 to build Seven Bridges Middle School.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Christine Ackerman said 71 percent of the first proposition is for infrastructure and repairs, 16 percent for air conditioning of the gymnasiums and cafeterias, 7 percent toward athletics and the remainder for security improvements at the elementary and middle schools and lighting for the high school auditorium.
Replacing the roofs may be one of the most important projects, she said.
“Every time we spend money on fixing our roofs, we’re pulling money out of other sections of the budget that should be used for other costs,” Ackerman said.
In the first quarter of the current fiscal year, $115,000 has been taken out of the repair budget on the roofs alone, said Joseph Gramando, the director of facilities, operations and maintenance.
When that occurs, other repairs and improvements must be postponed, he said.
Since the district needed to replace all of the roofs about 35 years ago, they are all approaching the end of their useful lives, Gramando added.
At the Oct. 3 Board of Education meeting, school officials explained the rationale for including each item in the bond. Other projects include more than $5.4 million for HVAC work in each school; $4.2 million for gym and cafeteria air conditioning throughout the district; more than $1.2 million to air condition the Horace Greeley High School L-shaped building; and paving projects at Westorchard Elementary School and the high school for a little less than $1.5 million.
Ackerman said in the last five years, there have been an average of 24 school days each year where the local temperature rises above 80 degrees, making too many areas of the buildings unsuitable for students. Therefore, air conditioning needs to be installed in the larger spaces.
While there is repair money every year in the budget for paving, the scope of the work cannot be addressed without the bond, Gramando added.
The district has also included $838,000 for electronic classroom locks at all of the elementary schools and middle schools to enhance safety. The same locks have been installed at the high school and have worked well.
Other projects that will be included in the first proposition is about $895,000 for elementary school playgrounds; $1.15 million for outdoor bathrooms with flushable toilets at the Greeley athletic complex; $820,000 for the Greeley J Bridge replacement; $768,000 each for a new fire alarm system and a new athletic equipment storage facility at the high school; $584,000 for new lights for the Greeley tennis courts; $500,000 to build a modified baseball field at Seven Bridges; and $447,000 for a new electrical panel and underground cables at the high school gym.
Jamie Block, the director of athletics, physical education and health, said the new tennis lights and outdoor bathrooms will benefit the entire community, which uses the athletic facilities. He also explained that the storage building would protect the district’s athletic equipment.
Board Vice President Warren Messner said while the projects included in the propositions are essential, some community members are concerned about cost, including the impact from inflation and potential overruns.
“We really need to make sure we communicate what this is and why we’re doing it and why it’s important to our community, not just the district but the community as a whole,” Messner said.
If both propositions are approved, it would cost a homeowner with a median-priced house of $1.25 million and the basic STAR program an extra $451 in 2024-25, the first year the bond will be repaid, said Andrew Lennon, assistant superintendent for business. For the 17-year duration of the bond, the average extra cost would be $232 a year as portions of current debt expire, he said.
If only Proposition 1 is successful, the extra cost is $232 a year for the median household for the first six years, before starting to decrease. Proposition 2 by itself would not cause any additional expense because of retiring debt, Lennon said.
There will be eight informational sessions to explain the details of the referendum to the public, starting this Thursday evening at 6 p.m. with a virtual session. The Zoom link can be found on the district’s website at www.chappaquaschools.org.
Each school will host another forum over the next month and a half and there will be another presentation about a week before the vote.
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/