Survey to gather ideas for BH-BL school improvements
Safety, technology suggestions sought
BURNT HILLS & BALLSTON LAKE The Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Central School District plans to ask its residents this fall for permission to spend money on building improvements. But before that, officials want residents to tell them what needs to be done.
They’re asking residents to fill out an online survey with ideas for the schools, and also forming a committee that will collect the responses and winnow those ideas into a specific infrastructure plan for the district’s five schools, especially regarding school safety and integrating technology.
“We need a community conversation here and we need a community dialogue,” said district spokeswoman Christy Multer. The survey is available as a link from the district’s website, www.bhbl.org.
The committee will start meeting later this month or early next month to study the various proposals, organize them and recommend some options by June.
It will be made up of 14 staff members and 14 residents, including community representatives, PTA representatives and high school students.
“We’re very, very early in the process,” Multer said. The referendum likely would be sent to voters in October or November.
The building work will be proposed as part of a regular maintenance program that the district undertakes every five or six years. The last proposal went before voters in 2009 and included $19.6 million for energy improvements, traffic and parking improvements at Stevens Elementary School and O’Rourke Middle School, upgrades at the high school track and gym and upgraded communications systems throughout the district.
The district has done a referendum and infrastructure improvements every five years since 1978, with one exception: In 2008, the district put off making improvements for a year because of the economic recession.
District officials believe that doing work every five years is less expensive in the long run than putting it off.
“The impact to the local taxpayers is mitigated by the fact that these projects get done regularly,” Superintendent Patrick McGrath said.
This time, officials say the district wants to focus on projects that make the schools more conducive to learning as well as implement safety enhancements, things where parents and others may be able to offer ideas or expertise.
They’re still flexible about what many of those changes can include, though officials and staff members have been considering an overall safety plan for a few months, and the need for it became even more clear after the school shootings Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Projects still will include replacing original windows to increase energy efficiency, and fixing things that are worn out. The district’s schools get heavy use, in part because they’re rented out for community events in addition to the regular school and after-school activities.
“There really isn’t a town center, and the schools are really where it’s happening,” Multer said. “There’s a lot going on on any given day.”
Some of the projects are likely to be finished in 2015, which is also the 100th anniversary of the district’s incorporation.
“That idea [of] building a second century is kind of resonating well with people,” McGrath said.
Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake is the oldest consolidated school district in the area by far, he said, and was either the first or second consolidated district to be incorporated in New York state.
So far, officials have received between 75 and 100 rough proposals, most of them about the high school.
McGrath said it’s encouraging how many people want to be part of the process and give their input, both staff members and the public.
“I really enjoy the pride that the community takes in the school system,” he said.