When the seating in Fonda-Fultonville Central School District’s auditorium was installed, Ray Colucciello was a 26-year-old fourth-grade social studies teacher in the Scotia-Glenville School District.
That was 50 years ago. Since then, Colucciello has worked in a dozen different districts until reaching his current post, superintendent of the Fonda-Fultonville district. Through those five decades, the auditorium seats supported the backsides of generations of students.
“I hope I held up better than those seats,” Colucciello said. “When you go to a concert there, you can hear armrests breaking and landing on the floor.”
Now the district is considering replacing the old seats, all 1,000 of them. New seating is just one small part of a laundry list of improvements laid out in a proposed $24.5 million capital project the district will bring to a public vote in the new year.
The project includes technology and electrical updates, sporting facility upgrades and health and safety improvements to vital school infrastructure. Colucciello said many aspects of the district building complex have been neglected for too long.
“We haven’t had a capital project in 10 years,” he said. “It’s a matter of paying now or paying later. This is brick and mortar stuff.”
Air conditioning is high on the improvement list. Right now fresh air is pumped into the buildings via rooftop circulation units. The problem is, they’re 30 years old.
“You can’t get parts for these anymore,” he said. “When they break down, that’s it.”
The district plans to take the opportunity to replace the old units with new air conditioners and provide cooled air to students for the first time. With a larger percentage of the school population suffering from asthma and class time encroaching on warmer weather, Colucciello said the upgrade makes a lot of sense.
The district is also looking into its electricity needs. The natural gas-fired generators currently providing much of the district’s electricity are wearing out. Under the capital project, they could be replaced with solar panels or some other eco-friendly solution.
Colucciello also suggested sports facility improvements such as artificial turf installed over the football field and a new floor for the gymnasium.
“We’ve gotten to the point where we can’t sand the gym floor again,” he said. “You can only sand a floor so many times before you go through the wood veneer.”
A big section of the project would focus on basic safety concerns. Many of the district’s doors aren’t up to fire code. Some parts of buildings are literally falling apart.
It’s still early in the process. Some aspects of the project could be eliminated over the next few school board meetings, and others could end up costing more or less than projected.
Currently, the district treasurer predicts a total cost of $24.5 million for everything. That’s roughly the same as the district’s annual budget, but Colucciello said the school needs a lot of work. “We got by with Band-Aids for a long time,” he said.
He stepped in as superintendent a year ago to pull the district from the brink of financial ruin. Money was so tight for so long, upgrades just weren’t on the table for the past decade.
Most other school districts, Colucciello said, do a capital project every five years.
“This is good news for us,” he said. “Everyone sacrificed to bring us to solvency. Now we’re at a place where we can go to the public and suggest something like this.”
He said the $24.5 million can be paid for with only a slight increase in taxes. Between 83 and 90 percent of the project is refundable through state aid. Several other school debts are nearly paid off, which will free up some income.
Board of Education members will refine the proposal over the next few months. A public hearing is set for sometime in May, then the project will appear later in May on the ballot with the school budget referendum and school board election.