$2.6 million capital project at Parishville-Hopkinton school delayed
By MATT LINDSEY
North Country Now
PARISHVILLE — The planned $2.6 million capital project at Parishville-Hopkinton Central School likely will be delayed due to a backlog in the State Education Department (SED) of school building project reviews.
The scope of the work includes reconstruction of locker rooms, auditorium electrical, sound system, dimming system, and theatrical lighting replacements and upgrades. Work will also be done to remove floor tile containing asbestos, replace corridor carpeting, replace the floor in the gym, upgrade the playground and replace the current phone system.An audit by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli found that the Facilities Planning Bureau, a part of SED, does not perform project plan reviews in a timely manner, and lacks guidelines that define a reasonable time period to review a project.
These delays have impacted many school districts’ ability to complete projects in a timely fashion, and caused them to reduce the scope of their projects or increase expected costs (due to inflation and fluctuations in the price of building materials during the delay), the audit said.
Project Likely Delayed
PHCS had hoped to begin work this summer on asbestos abatement, tiling the floors, replacing the gym floors, the boys and girls locker rooms, and the playground. PHCS Superintendent William “Bill” Collins says this work must be done during the summer break.
State aide would likely fund about 82 percent of the project and the additional cost to taxpayers will be minimal, if there is any at all, school officials said. PHCS will apply $525,000 in capital reserves to reduce the remaining cost. The public approved the project Nov. 14.
The district undertook a modest capital project in 2012. Since then, three emergency projects have arisen, causing the school to experience unforeseen expenses.
“Our capital project is nearly about 380th the queue for review by NYSED; it looks unlikely that our project will be approved in time for these projects to begin this summer,” Collins said. “This pushes the timeline out to next summer. There are several components of the capital project that do not need to be completed during the summer, such as the auditorium lighting and sound system and telephone system replacement. These can be performed following NYSED approval.”
Collins was notified Feb. 28 that his district’s Energy Performance Contract project has been approved by NYSED.
“These energy saving projects include replacing the lights throughout the building with high-efficient LED lighting, replacing a boiler, and moving to multiple phase pump motors in our heating system. The EPC is a cost neutral project for taxpayers, the energy savings are guaranteed to cover the project costs, if not, the school district will be paid the difference,” Collins said.
SED Addressing Issue
While some proactive steps have been taken to address the issue, staff vacancies and new responsibilities at SED continue to contribute to the project review backlog.
In November 2014, the Smart Schools Bond Act (Act) authorized $2 billion in bonds to finance educational technology and infrastructure throughout the state. Among the potential uses of these funds are construction and modernization of educational facilities.
The availability of this funding increased the number of possible capital projects, thus increasing SED’s workload, according to the audit. Although the Bureau has since received approval for additional staff positions, they remain unfilled.
The audit showed that SED does not monitor project construction, including whether districts begin construction before the final approval and any on-site confirmation of completed projects.
The systems the SED uses to track project information are antiquated and are not designed to allow staff to perform data analyses of projects, limiting its ability to monitor and improve its oversight performance.
Audit recommendations included taking steps to develop clear criteria and goals for project review timeliness; developing a system for conducting site visits of projects under construction to gain assurance that construction is not starting before a final project approval; take steps to improve information technology systems used to track and monitor capital construction projects.
In an attempt to speed up reviews, the SED is working with Oswego BOCES as an alternative review option, available for an additional fee. This allows districts to have their projects reviewed by third-party vendors. Schools are paying between $6,750 and $45,000, depending on project cost, but reviews are expected to be completed within five days, instead of many months.