SCHENECTADY — With a proposed $300 million capital project to fund major renovations at eight Schenectady schools headed for a public referendum vote on May 16, Schenectady City School District Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr. detailed the plan recently during a public information session at Central Park Middle School.
The proposed project would fund infrastructure upgrades across the district through 2030, with $126 million in funding for Schenectady High School renovations and $25 million apiece for Central Park and the Steinmetz campus, which is set to be converted to the district’s Freshman Leadership Academy campus in 2025.
Soler explained that the capital project was more ambitious than the last two referendums approved in the district for $70 million and $64 million, the last of which was greenlit by voters in 2017.
“We’re looking for a bigger scope and to ask our voters one time and look to address many buildings instead of a handful of buildings and only certain portions of them,” Soler said Thursday during the forum, “so we’re really looking to change the approach.”
The presentation at Central Park marked the second of four public forums the district has hosted detailing the proposed capital project, with the remaining sessions set for next Tuesday, April 18, at Mont Pleasant Middle School and next Thursday, April 20, at Oneida Middle School. Soler will also present the proposal to the Schenectady City Council during its meeting on Monday, April 17.
The Thursday night event was held in the Central Park Middle School auditorium. With the school marking its 113th anniversary this year, the superintendent noted the wear and tear on the aging space.
“It’s the reality,” he said. “The conditions you see here at Central Park, this is where our kids are and we believe they deserve better than this. This [school] has done its job, but if you start to look around you’ll see bubbles on the ceiling. Is this really adequate for our students for when we gather for an assembly, or if we want to hold music performances here or do plays?”
The average age of the district’s 18 buildings is 95 years old.
The proposed project comprises planned upgrades to Central Park Middle School including bathroom renovations, ceiling refurbishments and an upgraded hot-water distribution system.
The planned work at the high school would refurbish more than half of the campus, with the proposed scope including a new main entrance and renovated locker rooms.
Under the district’s tentative timeline, if the project were approved, the high school work would take place from 2025 to 2029.
Soler said on Thursday that the high school work would not be limited to the summer months.
“We’re going to take the freshman out so that would allow us to work year-round,” he said.
Under the district plan, freshmen would be moved to the Steinmetz campus starting in 2025.
“Some districts try to do all of the work in the summer and it prolongs the project and it’s actually not good use of resources,” Soler said. “With labor, it’s hard to find people who only want to work in the summer.”
The proposed $300 million plan would have zero tax impact on residents and would utilize state aid to fund 98% of the project’s construction cost.
Board of Education President Bernice Rivera attended the Thursday night forum and praised the project, which will be up for a vote alongside the district’s proposed $259 million 2023-2024 district budget on May 16.
“I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “I’ve been here in the school district for many years, so some of the things that he [Soler] mentioned about the upgrades and the condition of our buildings, I think would be really crucial for our students to have a learning environment that is conducive for learning. They need a positive environment where they can feel welcome and have the resources that are needed structurally for them.”
Additional work included in the proposal is the installation of a secure-entry vestibule at Fulton Elementary School, a roof replacement at Lincoln Elementary and the construction of new music and arts classrooms at Howe Elementary.
Soler noted during the forum that the final scope of work and project timeline will not be finalized until if and when the proposal is approved by taxpayers.
“A lot of this is projected or anticipated, because we still have to do some planning after we get approved,” Soler said. “We can’t make any decisions and we don’t want to go too deep into the work without getting voter approval first.”
Contact Ted Remsnyder at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @TedRemsnyder.