Last night, Gossips spent two hours at the school board meeting. The public meeting, which was supposed to begin at 7 p.m., was preceded by a curriculum workshop, which began at 6 p.m. and took place in another room. The workshop ran longer than expected, and the public meeting didn't begin until 7:20. As the hour approached 9 p.m., the board was midway through item 9 on a 21-item agenda.
The time spent at the meeting was informative. A representative from the accounting firm that did the annual audit reported that HCSD's fiscal health had improved in the past two years. It was no longer a school district under financial stress but now had a healthy fund balance. Between 2013 and 2015, revenues had exceeded expenditures by $2.5 million, and the fund balance consequenntly had increased from $2.3 million to $4.8 million.
John Sharkey, from Rhinebeck Architecture, was present to report the findings of the Building Condition Survey, required every five years by the New York State Education Department, and to talk about the proposed capital projects. Sharkey stated that the buildings were all in satisfactory condition, but there were some recommendations for improvement, primarily in energy efficiency. The cost of addressing those issues was estimated to be $10,713,120.
Sharkey then spoke about the proposed capital project necessitated by the plans to move the sixth graders from Montgomery C. Smith to the junior high school in 2016-2017 and to move first the second graders and ultimately all the students in PreK through Grade 1 from John L. Edwards to Montgomery C. Smith, and the plans for a new track and sports field at Hudson High School. Everything proposed is expected to cost, with lending fees, a total of $19,995,000--$5,000 short of $20 million. He explained that the cost in taxes on the average home with a senior STAR exemption would be $30 a year and $40 a year for an average home without a STAR exemption. He did not indicate the assessed value of what he was considering an "average home," but Point2Homes sets the median home sale price in the district at just under $200,000.
The proposed capital project is actually two projects. The first, at the high school, involves building a new 400-meter running track encircling a new athletic field to be used for football, soccer, and field hockey, installing new sports lighting, and making parking and traffic circulation improvements. Still under consideration is whether or not the athletic field will have artificial turf, which will cost $850,000.
The second project is at Montgomery C. Smith and involves constructing a 15,200 square foot addition to the school building, expanding and/or re-configuring the parking lot to add 100 new parking spaces, replacing windows in the existing building, constructed in 1937 as a WPA project, and acquiring land from the City of Hudson to pave a drive around the new addition, required for access by emergency vehicles. It was indicated that it is the expectation that the City will grant the needed land to the school district.
When defining the next steps, Sharkey listed "continue with public information and outreach" in preparation for a referendum authorizing the proposed project, to take place on February 9.
Next to address the board was Jeff Budrow of the engineering firm Weston & Sampson, author of the November 11 letter informing the City that the school district intended to be the lead agency in the SEQRA process. He told the board that all recipients of the letter had 30 days to respond with any objections or concerns, and since no response had been received, the board could now go ahead and pass two resolutions: the first declaring themselves the lead agency in the SEQRA process; the second adopting the findings statement and making a negative declaration. Budrow characterized passing these resolutions as "clearing a hurdle that lets you go to the public." He then walked the board through the completed Full Environmental Assessment Form.
Mayor-elect Tiffany Martin Hamilton, who was attending her last meeting as a member of the school board, expressed concern about storm water "running off into the wetlands." Budrow explained that although a school district project was exempt from review by the Hudson Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals, the storm water plan for the project must be approved by the City.
Gossips was not present when the school board actually voted on the resolutions before them but has since learned that the resolution to declare the HCSD Board of Education the lead agency in the SEQRA process and the resolution to make a negative declaration both passed. Hamilton recused herself from the vote on both. Presumably the resolutions to proceed with the capital project and with the referendum on February 9 also passed.
A "Community Conversation" about the proposed capital project will take place on Thursday, December 17, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., in the cafeteria at Montgomery C. Smith Intermediate School. This is the second such event, the first having taken place on December 2. As of this morning, there is a new section on the HCSD website devoted to information about the proposed project.
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