Last fall, the Marlboro school administration began working with Thomas Ritzenthaler, of the architectural firm CSArch, to compile a list of what maintenance, replacements and upgrades are needed at the three district campuses. There have been tours conducted of each of the campuses during the last three board meetings, but last week actual cost estimates for the proposed work were discussed in detail. CSArch came up with two cost scenarios; the first at $9.8 million and a second at $19.9 million.
After significant discussion the School Board appears to be leaning toward the second option of $19.9 million. The cost at the Elementary School was the lowest at nearly $600,000, with Ritzenthaler highlighting some of the key improvements - $261,342 for a security vestibule; $283,247 for improvements to the recess areas and $272,353 for improvements identified in a 2015 Building Condition Survey.
The Middle School estimate is $11.2 million, with the higher costs of $3.2 million for a band and chorus addition; $2.2 million going for the nurse’s station, locker rooms, innovation and tech labs and computer and music related upgrades and $1.9 million for site improvements.
The High School estimate came in at $7.8 million, with $1.3 million for a new fitness and support area and moving the Athletic Director’s office to the ground floor; $720,218 for establishing space for Student and Family Support Services; $329,547 to renovate the nurse’s suite; $732,902 for Art room renovations and $2.2 million for recommended site improvements.
Patrick Witherow, Director of Business and Finance, pointed to several factors that make this the right time for this project. Presently, there is $3 million available from the district’s fund balances that can be applied to this project while a significant amount of debt is coming off of the books at the end of the 2021-22 school year.
The $19.9 million project was broken down by James Nytko, of Capital Markets Assets: Using $3 million in fund balance leaves a borrowing amount of $16.9 million. Factoring in the NYS Building Aid of $11.9 million [70%], reduces the project to $8 million or an annual payment of $463,433 spread out over a 14 year repayment period. He said because the amount of debt dropping off is greater than the amount the district will borrow for this project, this Capital Project will have no tax impact upon the town’s residents.
Witherow addressed the effect upon the district’s total fund balances and reserves of a $19.9 million project. He calculated applying $3 million vs $4.5 million from the Fund Balance, going out through the 2029-30 school year. He noted that the net difference in the fund balance at the end of 10 years is about $214,969, calling that a “fairly negligible” impact to the district’s overall financial picture.
“At no point in these scenarios do we completely exhaust our reserves and during this entire time we maintain our 4% fund balance, which we’re allowed by law,” he said.
Witherow pointed out that of the $1.7 million in debt that will be dropping off, $1.2 million of it was from a tax certiori case the district settled with Central Hudson a decade ago.
“There is no debt service aid that is associated with that, so we pay that out and we get nothing in aid from the state in return. If that $1.2 million was a bond used for capital work, we would be getting 70.1% back on those expenditures,” he said. “It is a somewhat unique position just by replacing like for like with a different type of debt, we will see a significant benefit to the district.”
The school board asked Ritzenthaler and the administration to continue refining some of the cost estimates to see whether additional savings are possible – reducing the costs of the high school cafeteria renovations and eliminating an outside dining option, checking to see if the track fencing is properly allocated to the middle or high school and adding bathrooms on the second floor of the middle school for approximately $260,000.
Superintendent Michael Brooks spoke of what is coming up at their next meeting.
“So what you’ll get and what will be on the agenda for the next meeting is one scenario with everything that is in scenario 2 [$19.9 million], pulling back the cafeteria elements and adding back the bathrooms and tightening up all the numbers so we know exactly where we are; and the language for the bond referendum would reflect the $3 million [of fund balance].”
In a subsequent interview, Superintendent Brooks said the time spent developing this plan, “is an important process for the community and the board to go through; seeing the full circle of discussion is important because these are true issues – we walked it, we saw it and went to each building and saw each space and collectively have come to a decision that the board is poised to make a final vote on March 21st and ultimately the public will be flooded with this information so that they can make that decision on their own in the May vote.”
Brooks fully expects the project final cost estimates will be ready by the next meeting.
“I anticipate that we’ll be able to put a package together that they’ll be 100% in support of on March 21st. We can do $19.9 million worth of work and reduce our debt by $885,000 at the same time; we have to do this. We’re not going to get this opportunity again with 70% of the project paid for by New York State, it’s a no-brainer,” he said.