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Lake Placid school projects seem legit

October 6, 2016
Editorial , Lake Placid News

Our web poll this week suggests people are divided over whether voters in the Lake Placid Central School District should approve a multi-million-dollar series of building renovations and upgrades, if/when it comes to referendum.

And it probably will come before voters, possibly as soon as this coming spring.

The total cost has been estimated at $21 million, which seems like a ton of money. We found it valuable to take a closer look at the breakdown of jobs to be done and how much each is expected to cost. We went over it Thursday with district Superintendent Roger Catania.

First off, it's important to know that the state will pay for almost 30 percent. Mr. Catania said he forgot to mention that as the school board discussed the project earlier this month. Lake Placid gets less state building aid than poorer school districts, but still, its reimbursement rate is 29.9 percent.

Also, district officials are timing the project to begin around 2019, when they finish paying off the middle-high school addition completed in 2001. The hope, Mr. Catania said, is that the new debt payments would be about the same as the old, keeping taxes flat.

Also, although district officials got cost estimates for every project on their list they couldn't do in house, they may not put all of them to the voters - and voters may not have to approve all of them.

Officials have sorted the projects into three priority levels. The first-priority projects total about $15.6 million: $11 million for construction plus a third or so for contingencies.

Second-priority projects total almost $4.9 million. The biggest thing on that list would be to add storage space below the middle-high school's 1970 wing, but it also includes security upgrades, such as security vestibules and bullet-resistant window film at both schools.

The third priority, totaling $438,000, is mostly two new tennis courts at the Shipman Youth Center.

Most of the top-priority work really is just keeping up old buildings. Replacing the two schools' roofs is expected to cost close to $800,000; if you don't do it, eventually they'll leak and cause damage that's even more expensive to repair. A ramp students use to access the middle-high school's 1970 wing has deteriorated, and school officials plan to put a roof and walls over a new one to protect it from elements. That's $425,000. And several concrete retaining walls at the middle-high school are crumbling. The one along School Street, from the school to Main Street, is expected to cost $2.5 million by itself. It's a complicated job, Mr. Catania said: It's right on the road and involves a row of trees and an underground stream - Mirror Lake's hidden outlet to the Chubb River, running beneath the Olympic Speedskating Oval.

Other top-priority projects include some sensible upgrades. The middle-high school's steam heating system dates to the 1930s. Converting it to hot water would save money down the road on heating costs, but it would be a massive job expected to cost $2.35 million. Also on the list are upgrades of decades-old doors, windows, bathrooms and electrical systems.

All in all, we can conclude a few things:

-The projects school officials are considering here are generally needs rather than wants.

-The way they are prioritized seems sensible.

-Timing it for when the 1999-2001 addition is paid off makes sense, too. It would be nice to see taxes drop, but at least they aren't expected to rise because of this.

-It's good that school officials are giving voters plenty of advance notice about this.

None of this is to say taxpayers should necessarily sign on to borrow millions of dollars. They should only agree to what they think they can afford. But from what we know now, we can say the district's request seems legitimate rather than luxurious.



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