Niskayuna school district voters on Tuesday will have a chance to approve nearly $80 million in renovations, additions and improvements to schools and outdoor facilities across the district.
The capital improvements are divided across two separate projects: a $62.2 million referendum that includes the bulk of the work and would maintain current tax rates by replacing the district’s old debt, and a $16.8 million referendum that would focus extra work on improving district athletic facilities and would carry a slight tax increase over two years.
The proposed improvements include a litany of items spread across all district buildings, updating classroom spaces to be more flexible and collaborative, replacing an unsafe track surface and renovating dated buildings.
District officials divided the work into two separate propositions to enable the district to cover the costs of the first project with no new tax increase, while the second part would result in an increase estimated at $28 per year for a home valued at $100,000 over the first two years of the project. The second referendum, which would enable a major overhaul of the outdoor athletic facilities at Niskayuna High School, will be contingent on passage of the first proposition.
The $62,238,000 first proposition includes classroom renovations and needed improvements to the “guts” of school buildings across the district. The plan would also renovate classroom spaces, enabling more flexible teaching styles, and improve music facilities, cafeterias and multi-use rooms.
A key component of the capital project, nearly $48 million of the first proposition, is focused on restructuring and renovating Iroquois and Van Antwerp middle schools, so the district can shift its grade configurations to have all fifth- and sixth-graders in the district at Van Antwerp and all seventh- and eighth-graders at Iroquois. Van Antwerp in particular will need extensive renovations and improvements to the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems. The project would fund converting the district office space at Van Antwerp into classroom space as well construction of an 18-classroom addition at Iroquois. Glencliff and Rosendale would receive roof replacements under the first proposition.
The roof at the district’s Hillside Avenue transportation center would also be replaced at a cost estimated at just over $2 million and boilers and HVAC systems would be updated across the district.
“The fact of the matter is our facilities are in a state of disrepair,” Niskayuna Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr. said during a January meeting with the Daily Gazette editorial board, summing up the need for the project.
Tangorra has said depending on how construction progresses district schools would be ready to open under the new configuration by fall 2025 – give or take a year – with this year’s kindergartners potentially the first to join together as a districtwide fifth grade cohort. Educators involved in planning the new grade configuration have said combining all district students at an earlier grade will enable teachers to better plan and coordinate and give students a chance to build a stronger class community. The renovations at Van Antwerp and Iroqouis would also allow the district to design the buildings specifically for the two grades they will be serving. Renderings of the renovations include classrooms with movable furniture, collaborative workspaces and a more contemporary look.
Lindsey Redman, a Niskayuna middle school teacher, in a promotional video said the renovations will give Niskayuna students schools they can feel proud of.
“People come here for the education, we want our facilities to match that, we want our students to feel they are in a ‘wow’ school,” she said.
The first referendum includes funding to replace the district’s high school track – which officials say is functionally obsolete and cannot be used in competition – and expand the size of the infield to accommodate lacrosse and field hockey.
But for the district to realize the full ambition of its planned upgrades to athletic facilities, voters will also need to approve the second project. If that project is approved, the district would unlock nearly $17 million more, primarily focused on the athletic upgrades and other site improvements at schools, like traffic flow. The second project would enable the district to go further with the track and infield upgrades at the high school, possibly replacing the infield with a synthetic surface and upgrading the bleachers. The second project would also include new high school baseball and softball fields as well as the potential for a new multi-use turf field along Balltown Road.
Voting on the capital project will be held at Niskayuna High School on Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., with mask wearing and social distancing requirements in place. In-person voting will take place in the music area of the high school, near the main Balltown Road entrance. While district residents can no longer request an absentee ballot, they can still return the absentee ballot to secure drop boxes during business hours outside the high school entrance and district offices at Van Antwerp. Completed absentee ballots must be received by the district by 5 p.m. on Tuesday.