It's new, bold and exciting. The Dunkirk City School District, architects and building committee have been busy working to tackle the next capital project - the elementary schools.
After a successful referendum passed in March - involving the high school roof replacement, swimming pool and middle school boiler and reconfiguration at no cost to local taxpayers - the committee quickly turned to the larger project. Five months later, the committee has put together a set of two possible plans for the districts four elementary schools.
Option one, otherwise known as proposal 1-C, would be a brand-new building attached to the high school, along with two additions to school 7 - the only remaining elementary building of the four under the proposal. And option two, or 1-D, a renovation of each of the four elementary buildings, each with a similar addition.
The proposed two-wing addition to School 7, which would be the new home for grades K-1 under proposal 1-C by the Dunkirk School District Building Committee.
Before moving toward a referendum, the committee is looking for additional aid at the state level to help with the costs.
"The problem we have is we don't get as much aid to build new, so what we're asking the state to do is to give us the same amount of aid that you would to renovate, to build new," said superintendent Gary Cerne. "Everything is calculated by building aid units. That's how they determine aid at the state level."
Cerne says the difference could mean an additional $2 million in state aid.
New building plan
The following is the proposed Plan C-1 costs for a New elementary building.
New Elementary School - $27,153,221
School 7 additions - $3,213,656
Total - $30,366,877
State Aid - $14,380,385
Gap - $16,190,704
Rennovated building plan
The following is the proposed Plan D-1 costs to do renovations to the four elementary buildings.
School 3 and 7 renovations - $5,853,900
School 4 and 5 renovations - $6,605,350
Total - $12,449,250
State Aid - $6,142,491
Gap - $6,789,103
"I think we're asking for, to me, what makes more common sense. It's like fixing up an old house: you can put money into it, but you still have an old house," he said.
The Building Committee and the architects from Harrington Sandberg put together a comprehensive packet which details both proposal C-1: the proposed grade 2-5 wing onto what is the high school natatorium; and proposal D-1: the renovation of the four current elementary schools.
"We started out with some history, the size of our schools. Then it talks about our community, our demographics," Cerne said. "Then we talked about our history of failed referendums. We've gone out many times and have been unsuccessful. The one we finally passed in March was really because we told people it wasn't going to cost anything so they were very receptive to that. It's important for the state to see the defeated referendums."
Referendums in the report dated back to 2001, when the district proposed a $22,600,000 elementary buildings renovation project which was defeated by 19 votes on March 13, 2001 and later by 160 votes on June 19, 2001. In 2002 a similar project was proposed at a cost of $23,725,000, which was defeated by a whopping 1,039 votes. And in 2004, a serial bond resolution not to exceed $8,390,000 to finance a district improvement project consisting of partial reconstructions was defeated by 44 votes.
One of the most important sections from the 50-plus page document submitted to the state was the five page section on academic benefits of a consolidated elementary school.
"This is a piece I spent a lot of time on because I truly believe one building is the way to go from an academic standpoint," Cerne said. "All of our second grade teachers, all working together the same and sharing ideas ... Other than staff development days, teachers from (schools) 3, 4, 5 and 7 don't get to talk and collaborate."
The report ended with the 1-C plan and the efficiency improvement based on costs such as utilities and maintenance, followed by detailed site plans for both proposals 1-C and 1-D.
"The new elementary building would be hooked onto the pool with a new gym. We're not going to get near the Babe Ruth field or playground; we're thinking we may move our Varsity softball field down though. It fits kind of nice," Cerne said. "We'd put in a large gym, because we're always struggling for gym space in the winter. We're actually going to double it as part cafeteria and we'll still have two gym stations for physical education during lunch. It's much bigger then the high school gymnasium and pretty much equivalent to Brocton's gym, which is gorgeous."
The reason the gym would double as a cafeteria is because the district does not receive aid for a cafeteria, being it is not an instructional space. Structurally, the addition would be two floors with grades 2-3 on floor one and grades 4-5 on floor two.
"The thing that is neat is this would be a 2-5 building, with school 7 being our early learning center which would house K-1, with all of our classes together," Cerne said. "For instance all second graders and teachers will be together in one wing, special education rooms are in the same wing so second graders who may be classified as special education won't be leaving to go elsewhere, they will still be there with their friends. I think it's so beneficial."
Floor one would house a dedicated art room and a dedicated science room where kids could participate in hands-on activities during scheduled times. Floor two would house a dedicated chorus and music room, with the stage being attached to the gymnasium on the first floor.
"Proposal 1-C is our top priority and that's the direction we want to go. It's why we put together this for the state," Cerne said. "When we hear back from the state we'll have to make the tough decision: do we ask the voters to support something that may cost a little bit more down the road in taxes? How much exactly we won't know because all of the money we're going to save as far as utilities that's all general fund money that we spend now so we have to determine what savings we will have to offset the building construction."
Proposal 1-C would also consist of a two-wing addition to School 7. Proposal 1-D, the renovation of the four elementary buildings, would include very similar additions to schools 3,4,5 and 7. Each addition would house four new rooms for Kindergarten, pre-K and Special Education.
"If the new building plan doesn't fly we'll add on and renovate to the other buildings. We would have a dilemma if we went this route because we'd have to shuffle kids around because we can't count on just the summer - especially a summer like this one - to get all the construction done," Cerne said. "There are a lot of things we would have to take care of as well, by law. You can't do any other renovations to the buildings until those are taken care of. Most things in our five year plan for the elementary would be taken care of in the renovation."
The proposals were submitted to the New York State Education Department's Department of Facilities Planning by state Sen. Cathy Young. Once the district hears back from the state, a decision will be made as to which direction to go. A referendum is expected in March 2009 according to Cerne.
The district's first capital project is currently awaiting approval at the state level. One topic that was discussed in detail prior to the March vote by concerned taxpayers was the proposed parent drop-off loop and bus drop-off at the middle school.
"The more we thought about it, I'd hate to lose the front of the middle school and you hate to put a road in the middle of that greenspace. We're going to keep the busses in the back and we'll expand that loop to try and fit in all the busses at the same time," Cerne said.
Plans that were sent to the state now show a small parent drop-off in front of the middle school with diagonal parking, similar to the high school.
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