Bond Referendum Set For Dec. 6

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Dr. Fino Celano
Dr. Fino Celano

The Herricks School Board has set Tuesday, Dec. 6, as the date of a bond referendum for districtwide facilities upgrades and improvements.

The decision was made at the board’s Oct. 6 meeting. The project, which school district officials said carries no additional tax impact, has been under discussion for months and involved the input of students, parents, district staff members and residents.

Recently, the board presented details of plans for a proposed package of $29.5 million in improvements for district schools during a community meeting in the Herricks High School cafeteria.

The board is proposing a $24.5 million bond to cover most of the upgrades, which include $17.9 million in projects to address health and safety improvements and other projects considered necessary to maintain the schools. A total of $11.6 million would be earmarked for modernization of facilities at the high school.

The plan would draw $5 million from the district’s capital reserve to fund the balance of the work.

The proposal prioritizes projects estimated at $80 million identified by a capital committee of district administrators and school board members in a facilities survey developed over the past several months.

“We’re addressing some overdue upgrades,” said Herricks Superintendent of Schools Fino Celano at the community meeting.

The health, safety and urgent infrastructure improvements cover repairs to asphalt, sidewalks and drainage systems at the schools as well as bathroom renovations, upgrades to electrical and plumbing systems and installation of interior door hardware to make the school buildings secure in case of emergency.

“Unfortunately, we have to prepare for some sort of catastrophe happening,” Celano said.
He said the internal security hardware would enable administrators in each district school building to lock all interior doors at the push of a button.

Improvements at the high school, built in 1958, would include renovations to the cafeteria and science lab, replacement of the building’s generator, construction of a new fitness center and installation of a multipurpose athletic turf field made of Coolfill along with new bleachers and restrooms.

Celano said the proposed districtwide upgrades would have no tax impact for district residents.

He said the board is planning to hold a vote on the bond issue on Dec. 6, which would provide ample time for contractors to bid on the respective projects and begin some of the work next summer.

Herricks Assistant Superintendent for Business Lisa Rutkoske told approximately 50 district residents and students who attended the meeting that $2.1 million of the school district’s current debt of $3 million would be cleared from its books in the 2021-22 budget cycle.

“We do have expiring debt. The new debt would replace the old debt,” Rutkoske said.
She said 36 percent of expenditures on the projects would be recovered from state education aid over the next 15 years.

Roger Smith, the architect retained by the board to plan the projects, said 40 percent of the bathrooms in district schools would be renovated.

He said vinyl plank flooring would be installed in the high school cafeteria, along with wi-fi technology and air conditioning.

He said the $1.5 million turf field for athletic team competition, new bleachers and installation of track lighting on the athletic field perimeter to enable use at night would transform the existing infrastructure.

“It will be a complete change to what that facility will look like,” Smith said.

He said the new fitness center, to be equipped with exercise equipment, would be a 2,400 square foot addition on the front of the high school building.

Rutkoske said conduits would be laid under the turf field to facilitate eventual changes to the outdoor lighting scheme.

Herricks High School sophomore Christopher Soo said air conditioning in the cafeteria would be a vital change. “It should be dealt with like a health crisis. It should be dealt with immediately,” he said.

Karen Moskowitz, a Herricks High alumnus, asked why the remainder of the $80 million in prospective upgrades identified in the facilities survey were not addressed in the school board’s proposal.

Smith said a lot of planning had gone into prioritizing the most pressing upgrades needed at present.

Henry Zanetti asked when residents would be provided an opportunity to decide on the proposed $5 million to be drawn from the school district’s capital reserve fund.

Rutkoske said use of the capital reserve fund would be on the ballot when residents vote on the 2017-18 Herricks budget next May.

Kevin Dowd, a member of the Herricks Athletic Boosters, said the new turf field would be a boon to enable expansion of the district’s athletic programs.

“This field will really help us,” Dowd said, adding that adverse weather conditions currently limit the school district’s athletic programs.

Celano said the turf field at the high school and interior door upgrades at all schools, among the initial improvements to be done, would be funded from the capital reserve.

The vote will be held in the community center gym on Dec. 6 between the hours of 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. The purpose of this schedule, school district officials said, is to allow adequate time for the processes that follow the passage of a bond, such as obtaining bids for all projects and approval from the State Education Department.

School district residents are encouraged to follow the Facebook page “Herricks Public Schools Bond Referendum” in order to see reminders, facts and other details associated with this project. Presentations, a video and other materials are all available on the district website, www.herricks.org.

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