A small number of voters on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a referendum allowing the Niskayuna Central School District to bond $3.2 million to buy the bus garage it currently leases.
The tally was 719 votes in favor to 176 in opposition to the purchase of the 26-acre property at 1301 Hillside Ave., which the district has leased for about two decades as its transportation facility.
Superintendent Susan Kay Salvaggio said she was excited about the clear show of support.
“We think this will be obviously a way to contain our costs, transportation being one of them, and also a potential opportunity for revenue,” she said.
Matt Bourgeois, assistant superintendent for business, said Evergreen Testing and Environmental Services will start work today to assess any environmental issues at the site. District officials know there is some asbestos in the buildings and want to evaluate the structural integrity of the defunct water tower.
The goal is to close on the property sale by the end of the year, according to Salvaggio.
“Anything that would need to be addressed would be the responsibility of the current owner and that would be taken care of before we seal the deal,” she said.
School officials were persuaded to buy the facility, which also houses the operations and maintenance department, maintenance and grounds keeping equipment and storage of district wide supplies, because their current agreement with the landlord would raise the $420,000 rent by 5 percent every year. Over 15 years, the district would have made more than $9 million in lease payments. By contrast, the interest and principal payment on a 15-year bond would be about $284,000 next year and $4.26 million including financing costs during that same period of time.
The Niskayuna Central School District will be reimbursed by the state for 67 percent of the bond principal and interest and 63 percent for the cost of utilities and maintenance.
Turnout was light compared to the regular May election, according to Bourgeois. “We’re usually around 3,000 for the budget vote,” he said.
Residents appeared to be persuaded by school officials arguments that the purchase of the bus garage would save money. Mike Hehir of Niskayuna said it seemed to be a good deal.
“Their monthly payments are going to be less buying it instead of renting it,” he said.
Resident Suzanne DeWald said she voted in favor because the purchase will save money and bring in revenues, such as money from the cell phone towers that are at the facility.
The Niskayuna Central School District will receive two-thirds of the $150,000 income from commercial tenants, lease of parking spaces and cell phone antennas on the water tower at the property for the first six years. After that, it will get to keep all the money.
District officials also plan to see if other schools or municipalities are interested in leasing space. The district occupies about 130,000 square feet of the 195,000 square feet, according to Bourgeois.
School bus driver Fred Muller said he thought the purchase made sense. One benefit of the bus garage is it keeps all the buses indoors, which is protection against vandalism and other threats.
The fact that district officials are considering subcontracting out for bus driving services was another factor in his vote, according to Muller.
“I think if they buy the garage, then they’ll keep us.”