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North Colonie Capital Project Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

*Note: this FAQ was published in the spring of 2017, prior to the annual budget vote/capital project vote.

North Colonie residents voted on a proposed $106.3 million capital project for building renovations and additions on May 16, 2017 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. The revised proposal included addition and renovation work at the elementary schools and the conversion of the Shaker Junior High School to a 6-8 middle school to accommodate significant growth in enrollment, as well as security updates for all eight school buildings.

Project overview:

  • Convert Shaker Junior High School to a grades 6-7-8 middle school
    • Create a fifth hall to accommodate increased enrollment due to relocation of sixth grade from elementary schools to Shaker Middle School
  • Provide enhanced security measures at the front entrances of every building
  • Expand media centers at all elementary schools
  • Build new classrooms at Boght Hills Elementary School to allow for an additional class section for each grade level, reducing class sizes district wide
  • Expand parking and create dedicated bus and parent drop-off loops at Shaker Middle and High Schools to improve traffic flow and safety
  • Install a synthetic surface for Walker Field for multipurpose use, from sports practices and athletic competitions to physical education classes and community use

Q: How were items for the revised capital project identified and decided upon?

A: After the defeat of the proposed $196 million capital project in December 2016, district leadership and the Board of Education sought feedback from the community at two forums in January and March of 2017. These community conversations were initiated to gather all points of view, learn about the community’s concerns and priorities, and invite suggestions to help determine how best to move forward with a plan to address the district’s immediate needs while being mindful of the community’s expectations.

Following feedback from the first community conversation, the district presented two scaled-down capital project options for discussion during the March 2017 forum. Option A was approximately $50 million less than the original proposal, and Option B represented a reduction of approximately $90 million. After considering community input, the Board of Education carefully deliberated the two options before reaching a consensus and adopting a resolution on March 30, 2017 to present the $106.3 million capital project option to a public vote on Tuesday, May 16, 2017. The capital project referendum will be a separate proposition on the ballot during the annual school budget vote.

Q: What work is proposed in the revised capital project and what costs are associated with that work?

A: The proposed project includes the following work and costs:

Security upgrades K-12 (8 buildings)  $3,994,139
Elementary school renovations $18,239,074
Conversion of the junior high school to a 6-8 middle school to address enrollment needs  $36,325,749
Middle school renovations  $22,531,592
Site work/infrastructure (including one synthetic turf field) $12,979,371
Bus garage improvements  $1,486,924
Shaker High School work $10,707,146
Total $106,263,996

Q: What was reduced from the original project?

A: Approximately $90 million was eliminated from the original project proposal to get to Option B (the current proposal). The $106.3 million project focuses primarily on addressing the immediate needs of enrollment growth that has left many classrooms at the elementary level at or nearing capacity. It includes the conversion of Shaker Junior High School to a grades 6-8 middle school and expansions and renovations at the elementary schools, which will help alleviate the enrollment crunch and create learning spaces designed to equip students with the skills and knowledge necessary for success in an evolving job market and a global economy.

Renovations and additions proposed for the high school were greatly reduced from the original project scope. The following work was eliminated:

  • Renovations to all science labs, career and technology spaces, and select art rooms
  • Relocation of family and consumer science classrooms
  • Addition of 1,200 seat auditorium and music rehearsal rooms
  • Construction of a physical education studio and weight room addition

At the elementary level, idea labs were removed from the proposed renovations.

Q: What does the $106.3 million include exactly?

A: Elementary school renovations

  • Additional classroom space at Boght Hills to address enrollment
  • Expanded library/media centers for all buildings
  • Additional music classroom space at Southgate, Blue Creek, & Boght Hills
  • Additional special education classroom space at Southgate & Blue Creek
  • Multi-use labs for science, engineering, robotics, computing and other project-based learning for all buildings
  • Additional physical education space at Boght Hills
  • Expanded cafeteria space at Forts Ferry and Boght Hills.

A: Conversion of the junior high school to a 6-8 middle school to address enrollment needs

  • Construction of a new, fifth hall; all five halls will consist of grades 6-8
  • Renovated and expanded cafeteria
  • Creation of additional technology, music and art classrooms

A: Middle school renovations

  • Renovation of the existing auditorium
  • Creation of multi-use lab spaces to allow for collaborative project work and learning
  • Creation of a library media center with collaboration areas to allow for technology use and STEM skills (science, technology, engineering and math)

A: High school renovations

  • Relocate administrative and guidance offices to front of building near main entrance
  • Add two classrooms (J Wing) to accommodate special education/English as a New Language (ENL) enrollment

A: Site work & infrastructure

  • Roadway and parking improvements to alleviate traffic congestion at the middle/high school campus
  • Expanded parking and construction of dedicated bus and parent drop-off loops at the middle/high school
  • Conversion of Walker Field to a synthetic turf field
  • Replacement of old infrastructure including water mains, electrical service, gas lines and storm sewer at the middle/high school campus.

A: Bus garage improvements

  • Expansion of parking to accommodate additional buses and staff at the bus garage

Q: How much state aid is available for the capital project?

A: If approved by voters in May 2017, North Colonie will receive state aid on its capital project. The level of aid the district will receive depends largely on how quickly the project moves through the State Education Department’s approval process.

If the district is able to get signed building contracts in place by June 30, 2018, it would be eligible for enhanced state aid of 69 percent for three elementary buildings and all middle school work, based on merger aid that is still in effect from the 2008 Maplewood School annexation. At the 69 percent building aid ratio, the annual local share would be $3,852,680. That would result in a tax rate increase of 0.49 percent, or $21.32 more per year on a median assessed home of $170,000.

District officials have discussed this unique situation with the State Education Department, which has agreed to work on the district’s behalf to expedite building plan approvals that would allow North Colonie to have its contracts signed prior to the June 2018 date. That would lock in the higher aid ratio and save North Colonie taxpayers an estimated $23,458,235 over the life of the bonds.

That said, if the June 2018 deadline is not met, the district’s capital project would still qualify for state aid, but at a lower aid ratio of 52.5 percent. With the lower aid ratio, the annual local share would be $4,678,521, which would result in a tax rate increase of 1.49 percent, or $64.64 per year on the same median assessed home.

Q: What is the capital project going to cost me?

A: The annual local share is dependent on the level of state aid the district receives. With enhanced state aid: If the district receives a 69 percent aid ratio, the tax increase on a median assessed home* would equal $21.32 per year. This tax rate increase will not begin until the 2021-22 school year and will be phased in over three years.

Without enhanced aid: If the district receives the lower aid ratio of 52.5 percent (as explained in the previous question), the tax increase on a median assessed home* would be $64.64/year
(*Median assessed value=$170,000)

Due to anticipated delays with the approval process, the district will not be able to capture enhanced building aid (69 percent) for the entire project. The prospects appear good, however, for capturing the enhanced state aid (69 percent) for phase one of the project, which includes the additions and renovations at the middle school and three of the elementary buildings. The remainder of the project –the other three elementary schools and high school work (phase two) – will be aided at 52 percent.

Q: How does financing of the project work?

A: It is anticipated the project will initially be financed by short-term bond anticipation notes. As project phases are completed, serial bonds will be issued. Bond issues will have a life of 15 or 20 years dependent on how building aid will be paid by New York state.

Q: What are the immediate needs that will be addressed by the project?

A: The driving force behind this proposed capital project is enrollment growth. Projections from three different sources (Capital District Regional Planning Commission, McKibben Demographics, and Steve Zautner, District Business Manager) have shown that more than 900 new students will be enrolling in the district over the next decade. The district has already experienced sharp increases in enrollment at the elementary schools, including special education students and English as a New Language (ENL) learners. The current enrollment of 2,743 elementary students alone represents an increase of 238 students since 2013-14, which is a 30-year high. All projections show this trend continuing.

The other immediate needs are an outgrowth of the enrollment challenge:

  • Updated security is needed at all buildings K-12 to enhance student and staff safety.
  • Elementary and junior high school facilities need to be renovated to meet program needs in music, art, physical education, and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics).

Q: How accurate are enrollment projections?

A: Two external demographic studies completed in 2016 forecast an additional 939 students enrolling over the next ten years, mostly populating grades K-6 at the start, and later impacting the middle and high schools. Elementary enrollment alone has increased by almost 10 percent in the last three school years, and has currently reached a 30-year high at 2,743.

The driving force behind the capital project is the estimated increase of more than 900 students enrolling in the district over the next decade. Growing enrollment, especially at the elementary level, coupled with quickly rising birth rates, points to continued growth over the next decade.

Projections indicate that enrollment at the junior high will grow from approximately 900 students to more than 1,100, while the high school will increase from approximately 2,000 students to nearly 2,400 over the next 10 years.

Whether you have a favorable or unfavorable view of the rapid growth in the town, it remains the district’s responsibility to respond to that growth, as more families move into the school district.

Q: Why an emphasis on smaller class sizes?

A: There is considerable research supporting the educational and behavioral benefits of maintaining small class sizes. Smaller class sizes improve teacher-to-student ratios, which allow educators more time with each student and the ability to tailor instruction to individual needs. Students are more engaged and attentive in smaller classes and have fewer disciplinary issues. Smaller class sizes can more easily accommodate the varied modes of instruction necessary to meet the needs of all different types of learners. In general, smaller class sizes can contribute to better academic achievement, higher test scores and increased graduation rates.

Q: How will enrollment increases impact the general operating budget?

A: The proposed $106.3 million project only covers the costs related to construction and does not cover any additional operating costs for more staffing due to higher enrollment. With 900 additional students, the district will need to hire additional teachers, bus drivers, etc. These higher operational costs will become part of the annual budget and be offset through continued growth in the tax base, additional state aid resulting from growth in enrollment, and breakage stemming from staff retirements.

Q: What is STEAM and how does it help children learn?

A: STEAM is an acronym that stands for the integrated teaching of science, technology, engineering art, and mathematics in a hands-on environment. It is less about working in front of a computer all day, and more about creativity, exploration and problem solving. In fact, there are many “unplugged” activities in which students can engage and learn the fundamentals of computational thinking while reinforcing other learning.

Gadgets that were once considered science fiction as little as a generation ago will be the norm by the time today’s elementary students finish their education. A familiarity with 3-D printing and robotics will be as necessary to today’s children as the knowledge of how to sew a button onto a shirt was to previous generations. A world where a broken appliance can be fixed by designing a replacement part and then printing it at the local library or hardware store is probably only five years away. Building a familiarity with that sort of tool at an early age will pay lifelong dividends.

Whether it’s working with software programs like Scratch to create animations for a social studies project, or a fifth-grader using Python to help analyze data from a science experiment, the ability to read and write code need to be thought of as part of literacy. STEAM does not treat technology as an end in itself. Technology employed in the multi-use labs in elementary schools will provide students with opportunities to engage in questioning, collaborative problem solving, and hands-on learning while employing the tools of today, which can be integrated into the curriculum in the service of teaching content, just like scissors, construction paper, or other craft supplies.

Q: Why build a turf field?

A: Although the high school work has been scaled back considerably from the original proposal in December, the referendum includes the construction of a multi-purpose turf field to replace Walker Field, a grass football field with poor drainage. The new synthetic field would be lined for multiple sports, including soccer, lacrosse, field hockey and football. A multi-sport field will help negate field space that will be lost because of building expansion and required site work.

Presently, use of Walker Field is limited to 18 times per year, due to drainage and weather-related conditions. In contrast, because of its durability, the district anticipates a turf field would be used for many more months of the year — including as a classroom for the physical education classes that every student takes. A turf field would allow for expanded use by middle school and high school physical education classes, late into the fall and early in the spring. With 27 physical education classes per day, and one to three athletic games or practices each day, district officials estimate a turf field would be used as often as 3,600 times each year.

Although the cost of a turf field is $1.5 million, the tax impact would be $3.39 per year, which is less than 1 penny a day. Shaker teams currently rent the turf field at a neighboring school district for some athletic practices and games. The proposed new turf field would eliminate the need to rent fields and reduce the maintenance cost to mow and line Walker Field. The estimated cost savings on rental fees and maintenance is estimated to be $15,000 annually. A turf field could also generate revenue for the district through facility rentals to outside groups and organizations.

Q: What is the cost associated with a turf field?

A: District officials estimate the cost of a turf field to be $1.5 million. The tax impact of the field would represent:

  • 0.08% on the levy
  • $0.02 per thousand on the rate
  • $3.39 per year on the median assessed value home

Q: Are turf fields safe?

A: Today’s turf fields are quite different from those first introduced in the 1960s that contained a concrete under-layer, which was prone to injuries. Present-day fields are made with plastic “grass” over a resilient rubber base and are both softer and safer with respect to concussions and ground impacts. After multiple studies, there has been no evidence, to date, that crumb rubber causes any harmful effects.

A prior independent study of synthetic turf by the State Education Department found no reason to discredit the safety of these fields. Pending the outcome of a federal Environmental Protection Agency study of turf infill products, the district would consider alternate infill materials.

Q: What is included in the site work, and how will it help alleviate traffic congestion?

A: The following site work is planned that will improve traffic flow and safety:

  • An additional inbound lane dedicated to student access will be added to the high school access road. This will improve traffic flow and eliminate competition between parents trying to drop off and student/staff trying to park.
  • Additional drop off length will be added in front of both the high school and middle school to improve efficiency and capacity.
  • Plans are to have the middle school start 45-60 minutes after the high school and have separate bus run. This will reduce the peak volume of traffic as both schools will not be starting and ending at the same time.
  • Additionally, a gated connection will be constructed between the middle and high school to allow for alternative traffic patterns for peak events such as concerts, athletic events, back to school nights, etc.
  • The project will address much of the original infrastructure of the district, including the water main serving the high school campus, a vital link providing drinking water and fire protection. Additionally, much of the storm water infrastructure will be renewed as parking and access drives are reconfigured.
  • Due to the expansion of buildings and parking areas, the project will replace Walker Field with a multi-sport, artificial turf field which can be used for Physical Education classes as well as football, soccer, field hockey and lacrosse. The use will go from 18 times per year to over 3600 times per year.

Q: Why not include funds in the annual budget for capital improvements?

A: North Colonie does include smaller projects in its annual budget that are funded through transfers from its capital fund. The scope of work proposed in the capital project, however, could not be funded in an annual budget cycle – even for the additions and renovations at one school – dividing up the project over multiple cycles would take a considerable amount of time and added expense. Interest rates are still relatively low but are beginning to inch up, which is why district officials believe it is more fiscally responsible to act now.

Q: How would the community as a whole benefit from this project?

A: There are several benefits to the community. North Colonie schools are already recognized among the best in the Capital Region. The school district is historically rated in the top three for education in the Albany Business Review’s annual School Report. To continue delivering the high-quality education that is the hallmark of North Colonie schools, the facilities must change dramatically to help align learning environments with the experiences students need to prepare them for the world beyond school. At the elementary level, facilities need to change to align better with what is known about child development and research about how children learn best.

The site work proposed for the Shaker High School campus would help alleviate traffic congestion on Watervliet-Shaker Road during the early morning commute and at afternoon dismissal. In addition, the new improved educational spaces and athletic facilities would be available for community use by civic organizations, youth sports groups, and others.

Q: What is timeline for construction?

A: If the project is approved by district voters, a more detailed construction schedule will be developed in accordance with the design, and be made available. In general, the timeline will unfold as follows:

  • Construction will begin summer 2018 at the middle school and three elementary schools (Blue Creek, Boght Hills, and Southgate)
  • The remainder of the elementary schools (Forts Ferry, Latham Ridge, and Loudonville) and the high school will start in 2020.
  • It is anticipated that grade 6 will move in the fall of 2020. Additional renovations will be completed during the summer of 2021.

Q: What is North Colonie’s fallback plan if voters do not approve the capital project?

A: The needs that the capital project would address will persist. The school board will continue to be responsible for addressing the immediate need for increased space at the elementary school level, and then at the middle and high school levels. The practice of assigning students to schools outside their neighborhood zones will continue, and it is likely that the use of temporary classrooms would need to be pursued, as well, to accommodate the ongoing growth in enrollment.