Gowanda discusses school’s proposed capital project

OBSERVER Photo by Andrew David Kuczkowski Gowanda Superintendent James Klubek, in back, informs the public about the $41.5 million capital project. The project was not approved to go to vote as the board first aimed to get the community’s input, something that is uncommon to most capital projects. The board will discuss the results of the discussion and survey at its board of education meeting tonight at the middle school library. It begins at 7 p.m.

GOWANDA — Superintendent James Klubek and the Gowanda Board of Education have been working to construct a $41.5 million capital project for around three years. Most capital projects get approved to vote, distribute the information of what it contains and then the taxpayers vote yay or nay.

After some members of the community stated displeasure, the board agreed to have an open forum meeting on Nov. 29 to discuss the project prior to approving a scheduled vote.

The first conclusion made was how it was funded. The $41.5 million capital project would be paid as such (rounded): $37.8 million by New York state building aid, $596,241 by EXCEL funds, $1 million by FEMA aid and $2.7 million through the capital reserve fund.

Out of the $41.5 million, only $2.7 million came by already taxed dollars or 6.5 percent. Village Financial Advisor Andy Burr argued that the board should be “good fiduciaries” of the money and that the number is too high. Burr and Gowanda’s Director of Finance Joelle Woodward estimated that the district is assessed at around $230 million.

Burr sees an investment of $41.5 million being “absolutely staggering” for the school to spend.

“We are looking at spending 15 percent of our total assessment of every house, every farm, every piece of property, every building, every single person’s taxes,” Burr said. “It’s 15 to 18 percent. The number has to go down. I find this number absolutely staggering.”

Purchasing more land for the school’s track and more classrooms is problematic to a local business owner.

“We continue to go down in enrollment,” meeting attendee Janet Vogtli said. “… In probably 10 to 15 years, we will probably be closing down classrooms.”

Others found conclusions that appeased their concern.

The difficulty of explaining three years’ worth of information in a concise two-hour meeting became the weak point of finding the middle ground with those who disputed the project.

“I think you just have to give an overview. I think we are going above and beyond to get the community’s support,” Klubek said. “A lot of times, when people do capital projects, they get their support by whether or not they vote for it or against it. I applaud our board president and the board to get the community support before we put it out to vote.”

The overview assisted some attendees in understanding what was being done. Those critical of the project may have not gotten their specific answers. Some rebuttals were towards the high cost compared to assessed value of area, the necessity of moving the track away from Hillis Field and the impact of turf at the baseball/softball fields and the addition of lights for softball.

The ultimate question was the cost to benefit ratio. For the turf’s impact and need, the district’s buildings and grounds stated the benefits of the turf is not having to line the grass and fix the dirt during the baseball/softball season, barring the weather making the process take longer. Specifics, as far as how many man hours it took (or operational costs) in contrast to cost of turf and equipment, were not available.

Klubek added that the turf, besides the hours saved maintaining the field, will bring people to the area. During the meeting, Klubek said that Section VI Director Tim Slade will possibly give Gowanda the ability to host the softball tournaments for playoffs.

“I think the benefits are huge for this area,” Klubek said of the project. “I think, as I said before, we have sectionals for baseball and we would have them for softball if we had lights. I know we had them scheduled here for track. I also think for students moving into the area look into that, the condition of the school and we have a beautiful school right now. If we add to that, that also draws people to the community.”

The track that circles Hillis Field has flooding problems that is forcing a solution or relocation. The reason the board is looking to move it near the elementary school on Aldrich Street is because the area is in a floodway, said Klubek. That area is meant to flood to mitigate a greater problem. The flooding damages the track by loosening the adhesion. The district was told by FEMA that it will be given $1 million to fix the track, but will not be given any more money if it is not moved from the floodway.

The Gowanda Village Board is being informed that the Thatcher Brook flooding problem could be mitigated soon and may remove the threat all together of the flooding. There was no certainty if the floodway status would be removed. Many relate the relocation of the track as harmful to the sentimental factor of Hillis Field as well as arguing the necessity of having more land to take care for on Aldrich.

The meeting concluded with a survey given to the attendees asking what they thought. Klubek said that the board will discuss the project at the board of education meeting tonight, Dec. 6, at 7 p.m. in the middle school library. The final decision will be made in the coming months with the aim, but not mandatory, for a March vote. Klubek said if it is voted and accepted in March, the project then could be finished in 2020 or 2021. If not in March, then it would move onto next year.

“Does that mean I want it March no matter what?” Klubek asked, then answered, “No, I want a good project that the community can accept. But if we could get it done at the March vote, that would be great.”