by Jessyca Cardinell
The Gouverneur Central School District has been under a major overall, involving lots of construction and renovations. The first two phases of the $31.45 million dollar project have been completed. Phase one involving the East Side school's transformation into the upgraded Gouverneur Elementary. Phase two of the project upgraded the West Side school to become the new and improved Gouverneur Middle School.
Lauren French, GCS Superintendent of Schools, gave an update on the project to the Board of Education at their regular meeting held Monday March 25th in the high school auditorium. The project which was set to begin the third phase of construction in the high school had a setback as Mrs. French explained the Board would have to make a decision.
“The bids we received are far in excess of the amount of funds that we have. We have to look at the way to resolve that. What is difficult about this project, is it is not a stand alone project. So you cannot take down the Dean building, without having the ability to finish the area where the Dolan building and the 1961 high school come together. That has to be finished. That involves not only construction but it also involves all the mechanical, plumbing and electricity. Those bids were in excess of the funds that we have.” said Mrs. French
There were four options presented to the Board of Education to consider. Option one would be to rebid the project, option two would be better pricing, option three would be to completely cancel the rest of the project, option four, which was recommended, would use the $1 million dollar capital reserve. This capital reserve has been set aside for projects such as these to use if needed.
“We scaled back the project and have a suggestion for you to consider. That is that we had already put $1 million dollars in a Capital Reserve, that is a separate account. One thing I want to make very clear is that this Capital Reserve can only be used on the building project. So, I want you to make sure that you understand that I can't take that money and balance the budget. It can't be used for salaries or field trips. Just so that is out there, very clear. But that money can be used if the voters pass a referendum by saying we want to use the money that we've set aside for Capital Project to finish this portion of the project so that we can move everyone back into the high school. What that would do is address all the fire alarm systems in the high school, the Dolan building and the 1961 structure. It would take care of all the safety features, with the door closing in the double entry way and the swipe cards. It would remove all the remaining asbestos. It would remove the Dean building, it would also create areas in the Dolan building so that we have a way to enter the building and a way to egress out of the building. This would mean a new set of stairs. As I said, all the safety issues, it would renovate the bathrooms for school use on the first and second floors.” said Mrs. French, who went on to give the items that would have to be removed from the construction completely.
“What this would remove is technology closet, the closet that runs the internet and the local area networks for the school. That would be all up to date and completed ready to use.
“We would not be able to do anything with the third floor, this is the administration offices, that's not an issue to us. We're more than happy to sit upstairs as long as we have running water and heat. It would not address the areas that we wanted renovated in the cafeteria, in terms of the kitchen. It would not renovate the freezer areas, it would not address the old windows. Windows alone came in at $1.2 million. So when looking at the fact we had $5.2 million left, that had to be pulled out.” said Mrs. Lauren French
“The suggestion I am making to you, both Carol and I, would be that we educate the community and the use of the $1 million dollars in Capital Reserve, how beneficial it will be to be able to go back to the high school and get that building as safe and secure as the Elementary and the Middle School buildings are.” said Mrs. French
David Fenlong, President of the Board of Education then spoke to the Board explaining that there were four options the Board had to think about and decide on.
“The fourth option is of course the one Lauren said is most feasible and makes the most sense, but all four are on the table. She went into some detail on the fourth one, if you want to discuss the other three in more detail we can.” said Mr. Fenlong, as he went over the other three options.
“Rebidding this, just as she spoke, will come out worse. They will not rebid like they did the first time. If we rebid this I think we will fall back even further.
“Better prices offers the same exact scenario and finally to cancel the project entirely I think would be a foolish mistake. I think we need to preserve what we've started and everything gathered here completes the security and safety aspects that we started. Again if anyone would like to discuss options one through three or four further we can.” said President Fenlong.
Board member Nick Ormasen stated his opinion on the options presented to the Board of Education.
“I don't seriously want to consider this, but if we were to cancel the project, we would forfeit any additional money from the state and it would go back to the state that was approved for Capital Project?”
Business Manager Carol LaSala replied to Mr. Ormasen's question.
“I don't know that the money would go back, if we did not spend all the money. My concern with that is we already spent money on Phase Two as far as design and things like that. With that project being included, I don't know how we would prove we had those expenses.” said Mrs. LaSala.
“You wouldn't.” replied Board member Dr. William Cartwright.
“If you just trashed it, you would have problems in the future that you are going to have to figure out how to pay for it. Repair the roofing, the asbestos and probably water problems and so forth. They probably won't grant you another building project for five or six years, under the document, someone could come in and say, “why haven't you gotten rid of the asbestos here?” said Dr. Cartwright.
“I think it would also damage our credibility with the community.” said Board member Lisa McGregor.
“If we said to them we're not going to do this after you said its what you want.”
Board member Laurie Roberts posed the question of whether that $1 million dollars mentioned was in place for future projects and if it was in fact there for the capital reserve. Mrs. French confirmed that yes her thinking was correct.
“Hopefully in the future we can get that funding back up.” said Mrs. Roberts.
“That was my concern that if we did not move forward, we've lost not only the momentum on this, but what Dr. Cartwright points out. I think it would be very difficult to go back to the state and say, “we're ready now.” said Mrs. French, as she explained the funding may not be there in the future, as it is now.
“We looked at the cost of steel alone, that was a significant increase from the initial phase to when the tariffs went into place.” said Mrs. French, who explained there is only one firm that does a certain aspect of the construction, there is an 18 month wait. If the District does not stay on top of getting construction done, this could be an issue of things getting completed.
“Using the $1 million dollars that we already have set aside is going to be a matter of educating our community as to why we need to use that now to finish this project.
“I think we also hold out as much possible that is not directly student related. We all benefit from having a safe and secure and locked facility. We all benefit from swipe cards. Looking at the third floor alone, that was going to be an expense of I believe $489,000. We don't need that for office space, that was an easy thing to peel away. Some of the other things we don't want to peel away, so we've taken out everything else that you can take out and still have functioning. You can't have plumbing through floors one and two and not go to floor three. The same thing goes with electricity.” said Mrs. French
“So major construction will be on floors one and two, bridging the building back together and the large part of that is going to be the technology, setting up for second floor secure technology space for what runs the district.” said Mrs. French
“We have people who have turned in bids and they are willing to hold their bids at the level that we would accept through the duration of our project. So that is very nice to hear from them, because they don't have to do, but they are willing to do that.
“The timing is going to be not as pleasant as what we would have liked because now we can't move forward, until we get voter approval. Technically tonight you would have been accepting bids and now, we can't until May and we will take action in June, opposed to April, and that's if it passes.” said Mrs. French
Mr. Ormasen inquired if the district would have to scale back more of the project if the community does not vote to use the $1 million in reserve.
“There's nothing in this really left to remove. When you start taking this apart, the General Contractor number is about $4 million dollars, when you start layering in as I said, the plumbing, the electrical, the mechanical and the technology, that has to be an all or a none. You can't just say you'll do two thirds of the electrical, that's not going to work.
“I personally think, my intent is to run with your support of this project is to run this just like I ran the initial project, that is I will go out and speak to the people. I did 32 presentations for the initial project in 2014. We will speak with our staff, we'll speak with our community and we'll speak with the parents. The focus on this is safety and security of our students. The feedback that we've had on our Safety Resource Officer has been phenomenal. People want their children safe and I think that they will go ahead and say that we'd like our children safe in the high school as well.
This is not going to be an additional burden financially because we are using money that is set aside. It's just to have people understand that in my household the checking account and savings account go back and forth. I have that ability, but in a school I can't just take capital reserve funds and hire a teacher. That's going to be an educational point of view. That's not how people run their homes but that's how you have to run a school budget, so that's going to be a point of education.” said Mrs. French, as she asked the BOE members for their support in this fourth option.
Mr. Fenlong and Dr. Cartwright both explained that there is no wrong doing or mismanagement that caused this to happen with the Capital Project, but rather the 30% increase in tariffs. Mrs. Carol LaSala as well stated that there is a lot of work right now for construction companies so their bids are going to be higher at this time.
The Board of Education discussed what had been presented to them and it was then time to make a decision on the proposed proposition.
BOE member Lisa McGregor made a motion to approve the proposed proposition to be on the budget vote for registered voters of the community to have the ability to vote whether to use the $1 million capital reserve or not. Dr. Cartwright seconded the motion. The motion carried with one abstention.
As the future of the remainder of the Capital Project is up in the air, be sure to get out and vote on Tuesday, May 21, 2019.