Niskayuna

Niskayuna school board targets February referendum on capital project

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Niskayuna school district residents would be asked in February to approve a major capital project to overhaul schools across the district over the coming years, especially Van Antwerp and Iroquois middle schools, under the latest project timeline presented to the board.

Details of the final project proposal, including the price tag, were still not available Tuesday as the board received an update on the long-planned capital project, but the district appears to be entering the end stage of planning for the project, and moving toward the public referendum sometime in February.

The board will receive another update complete with an overall cost, financial plan and detailed scope of work at its Dec. 15 meeting, under the timeline. The board would also be asked to adopt a resolution setting the capital project vote at the December meeting.

“The most important thing is to move this in front of the voters as soon as possible,” said Tony Armlin, a project manager working with the district.

Armlin highlighted some dire needs in the district as he emphasized the importance of getting a start on the renovations as soon as possible, while also noting the need to align a new project with debt that is falling off the district’s balance sheet over the next three years. District officials have sought to align the new project with old debt to minimize the tax impact on district residents.

Armlin told the board it would have a “zero tax impact option,” suggesting the proposal would not result in a tax increase to individual residents – though the financial details have not been publicly discussed. During Tuesday’s presentation to the board, Armlin said the final price tag would fall somewhere in the $50-$80 million range.

The primary focus of the project would be on renovations and other improvements at Van Antwerp and Iroquois middle schools, part of a plan to shift the district to a new grade configuration by converting Van Antwerp to a districtwide grades 5-6 building and Iroquois to a districtwide grades 7-8 building. The reconfiguration, which is still multiple years away, would turn the district’s elementary schools to grades K-4 buildings and centralize all of the district’s students together as early as fifth grade.

Van Antwerp will require the most extensive internal renovations and basic infrastructure work, but officials are planning to relocate central district offices out of the building and expand classroom space into space currently used for administrative offices. Plans have also called for construction of a new wing at Iroquois school and the creation of more flexible space throughout school buildings in the districts.

The planned project would address the most immediate infrastructure needs of the district’s elementary schools but larger renovations would come during a subsequent project, Armlin said during the presentation.

The district’s athletic facilities would likely receive attention under the planned project, with officials considering options for replacing the high school’s football field, track and tennis courts. It was not clear what exact improvements are planned, though, because the upgrades would not receive the same level of state aid as other components of the project.

During Tuesday’s presentation Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr. noted the February vote would be the first in a series of capital project votes that would go to voters over the next decade in an effort to overhaul the district’s facilities and transition to a more routine and regular schedule of capital improvements.

“We are talking about three referendums,” he said of the broader effort. “It will be 2032-ish when all of that work is finished, and we are thinking about where do we start again. It’s a significant undertaking that can never really end.”

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