Potsdam Central School District residents to vote on $18 million capital project focused on energy efficiency
Sunday, December 2, 2012 - 8:25 am

By JIMMY LAWTON

POTSDAM -- Voters will soon decide if Potsdam Central School District will get an $18 million upgrade focused on energy efficiency.

With state aid at 86 percent, a capital reserve fund of more than $800,000 in place and $173,000 in annual debt payments coming to an end, Superintendent Patrick Brady said the climate is favorable for addressing “needed improvements” at Potsdam schools.

Peeling roofs, inefficient coolers, aging sidewalks, leaky ceilings and steam heating pipes from the1920s are some of issues that would be addressed, he said.

“This project is largely about the health, safety and energy efficiency needs the school has. We are looking to replace a heating system that is over 50 years old and siding from 1929. Our roof is over 21 years old,” he said.

“We know that by focusing on these areas, particularly in a time when funds are tight, we are going to be able to save money by increasing energy efficiency.”

A public hearing will be held at the school at 7 p.m. Dec. 3 in the high school library.

Voters will decide the project’s fate Dec. 12.

Footing the Bill

Brady said the local tax base would not see an increase in taxes from the 14 percent local share of the project.

He said the current debt payments, combined with the reserve fund, would cover the to $2.8 million local share over 15 next years. This could also be seen as an opportunity to reduce spending by $173,000, but Brady said the savings would be minor compared to what the school could get by leveraging the money with state funds.

“I think it’s a short-term view to take the money and use it in the budget,” he said. “We could reduce the budget and use the money for other things, or we can leverage the money for much needed renovations.”

Window of Opportunity

Brady said the school requires maintenance and has been faulted in annual surveys for the poor condition of the building.

“There were areas in our survey such as the outside of building and heating system that were declared unsatisfactory,” he said.

He acknowledged that not all of the issues were dire, but rolling them into one project would be the most cost effective way to deal with them, especially with the current building aid percentage of 86 percent.

“Currently our state aid formula is very favorable for the district. As with the last project, the state portion is 86 percent. It’s an $18 million project and 86 percent will be paid by state aid. This is a major influx of money not only for school but for local firms,” he said.

Brady said the opportunity may not be around in the coming years as the state struggles to balance its own budget.

He said Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed modifying the building aid formula, which could reduce the percentage the state would be willing to pay on the project.

“The governor has placed this change in the last budget and it was defeated. The Board of Regents has had these discussions because educational funding has been cut,” he said. “There is a strong potential that the building aid formula will not be as advantageous to schools like Potsdam in the future.”

Energy efficiency

Brady said the project is also an investment in the district’s future. He said well maintained and efficient schools will be in better position to receive students if mergers or regional schools become a reality.

Brady said the school would receive a one-time reimbursement of $50,000 from New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) for the proposed improvements. He said project engineers estimated an additional annual savings of $50,000 from reduced energy costs.

“This is a good deal and a good investment in the future, and the timing is very good to do this. At a time when resources are scarce we have to be able to look at the longer range and we have to maintain our infrastructure,” he said.

Although many of the improvements are focused on efficiency Brady said the proposal also includes renovations to the school auditorium. He said the auditorium was overlooked in the 2005 project and is in need of improvements.

“Yes, we are looking at the auditorium and spending some money in there, but we have a strong music and arts program that we need to support and that auditorium is a community center that hasn’t had much work done to it in years,”

A summary list of improvements follows.

Elementary School -- $3.1 million

• Roof replacement

• Interior lighting replacement

• Replace food service equipment

• Replace carpeting in main office and second grade wing

• Fix ceiling by gym

Middle School -- $3 million

• Interior lighting replacement

• Electrical distribution upgrades

• Reconstruct back parking lot, sidewalks and loading dock area

• Replace food service equipment

• Replace four exterior doors

• Minor re-roofing

High School -- $10.6 million

• Siding and window replacement on 1929 wing from library to auditorium

• Roof replacement

• Heating distribution system replacement—convert steam to hot water

• Auditorium renovations to ceiling, flooring, and stage

• Interior lighting replacement

• Exterior door replacement

Other -- $1.3 million

• Bus Garage fuel tank replacement

• Storm water management

• Parking lot improvements

• Roof replacement

• Fire Alarm System