Public reaction pushes back Gowanda capital project

OBSERVER Photo by Andrew David Kuczkowski The Gowanda Board of Education listens to the community at Thursday’s meeting. Pictured from left, Director of Finance Joelle Woodward, Superintendent James Klubek, Board President Cynthia Sutherland and Secretary Kathy Ferneza.

GOWANDA — Once word got out that the Gowanda Central School District had a $41-million capital project ready to be put forth to voters, locals came out to voice their disapproval. Due to a lack of attendance at previous meetings, the knowledge of the project was spotty, at best.

Some believed that the Gowanda Board of Education was forcing the issue, while others put blame on the alleged covert approach the board had in putting the capital project together.

The board stressed that the vote, which was tabled on Wednesday, was only to approve the project and then the project was to be shared with the public for their approval at the voting booth.

Gowanda Village Financial Advisor Andy Burr began the public discussion with questions of necessity and cost.

“I would estimate that the total assessed value of the Gowanda Central School District is somewhere between $250 and $300 million,” Burr said. “… When you look at a $41 million capital project, we are talking about 15, 18 percent of the total assessed value of the entire school district: for every house, every farm, every piece of property. … In an order of magnitude that is a profound amount of money, beyond the scope of what many folks here would deem reasonable.”

Janet Vogtli has been an advocate within the village and voiced displeasure with the board’s so called lack of openness. The board puts its agenda online, however, the timing isn’t far in advance and some patrons of the district may not have Internet or be Internet savvy. Without knowing the agenda, the community members were unable to give input about the project before it goes for a vote, she stated.

“I am really disappointed on how this came about. The last hearing that was had, I think there were only two people that were present,” Vogtli said. “If people had known about (the presentation in May), they would have been there.

“Did anybody know about it, that it was presented to the board?” she asked the audience.

Most of them — around 20-25 total — answered they had not.

Superintendent James Klubek explained the capital project began in July 2014, before his arrival.

Every five years, the district does a building condition survey. The survey became the basis of the project and set priorities.

Klubek listed the project’s “had to haves,” as secure entrances, technology upgrades for wifi connectivity that supports the district’s 1:1 Initiative and fixing the Panther Street Bridge near Hillis Field, “because it was flagged by the DOT because it was on its last leg.” The project’s needs include energy improvements and classroom upgrades in the elementary school, which was built in 1967.

The committee went beyond the needs to see the wants, which aim to enhance the educational experience. Klubek said he doesn’t wanted these additions to be a burden on the community.

“Our goal was to make this a little or zero-cost project to the community,” Klubek said.

The additional upgrades that may be in the proposed project begin with a HVAC system and climate control for classroom temperatures.

“It was 98 degrees for classrooms on the second floor,” Klubek said. “It’s hot. It’s real hot.”

Other secondary improvements include, weight room and technology classroom improvements, district office upgrades, adding turf to the baseball and softball fields and lights to softball field, digital signage at each school and adding a library media center that would replace the two already within the school.

“We thought this wish list would not be doable because we would add way too much local share to the project,” Klubek said. “To the committee’s credit and to the board’s credit, they still wanted to see if it could happen. We spent the next one to two years narrowing the project. Talking to FEMA to secure additional funding and seeking out additional outside sources of funding and going to Albany and trying to convince (the state Department of Education) the projects, that they have refused in the past, were now back up for discussion.”

Klubek added that everyone in the state contributes. Part of those taxes will go toward other schools and their capital projects. Thus adding, “Why not Gowanda?” a motto that the board took for this project.

Another concern the community stressed was the track that circles Hillis Field. Due to the floods of 2009 and 2014, the adhesive below did not hold the track and it began to peel away. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, gave the district $1 million to move the track, as it needs to get out of the flooding plain.

“The reason it was destroyed was because Hillis Field doesn’t lie in a flood zone, but rather it lies in a flood way,” Klubek explained. “A flood way is a piece of land that designed to flood to keep other areas from flooding. … It is a one-shot deal: move the track or forfeit all future funding from FEMA if it floods again.”

The district looked into moving the track adjacent to the high school, however, the spacing did not work. Either parking or the facilities nearby would be hindered by to the location.

Klubek said the district pondered purchasing land near the elementary school on Aldrich Street. But, funding support from the SED was slim.

“It was a total longshot, but we tried and we took another trip to Albany. Surprisingly, I received an email this week, actually it was Monday, that said the state has agreed to aid this move. Based on this, there is a potential, and I repeat a potential, that the project to be fully funded,” the superintendent said. “I know there has been some in trepidation about the track move. I totally get this.”

Other concerns the community stated include the fact that the additional land will mean more operation costs. The board’s rebuttal was that turf will be easier to handle because the baseball and softball fields have been a hassle to take care of. The attendees also wanted conceptual drawings of these ideas, however, Klubek stated that this cannot be done because if the community shot down the project, then the money spent toward the design would be for naught.

The term “potential funding,” drew fear from the crowd.

The cost was an assumed estimate as Director of Finance Joelle Woodward stated that the district was “conservative” in getting the numbers. The costs may be lower due to these assumptions.

“You will know (specific numbers) before it goes out to vote,” Klubek said. “You will know exactly what the costs will be.”

The near-hourlong discussion between the board and community members ended with the agreement to have more public discussions to explain the ins and outs to the project. The vote was tabled to appease the crowd’s wish.

The next public workshop is slated for Nov. 1 at 6 p.m. and the regular meeting is at 7. For those interested in getting more information about the board, go to the school’s site at

Twitter: @Kuczkowski95

The capital project must haves:

¯ Secure entrances

¯ Technology upgrades for wifi

¯ track repairs,

¯ Panther Street Bridge repairs

¯ energy improvements

¯elementary school classroom upgrades

Project additions

¯ HVAC system and climate control

¯ upgrade weight room

¯ improve technology classroom

¯ enhance district offices, add turf to baseball/softball fields and lights to softball field

¯ digital signage at schools

¯ add library media center.