• 11 buildings and 10 out-buildings
• Approximately 1 million square feet of buildings
• 400 classrooms
• 260 acres
• 26 acres of parking lots
Questions and Answers about facilities improvements
On Sept. 10, 2012, the Bethlehem Central School
District hosted a community forum on a possible facilities
improvement proposal, stemming from our state-mandated 5-year
Capital Facilities Plan.
(You can read more about the plan and view video of the forum here.)Those in attendance were asked to give us their feedback and submit questions to the district.
Overwhelmingly, you asked for more information - about what we've identified as needs, about the referendum process, state aid for improvements and about how we maintain the district's assets.
Here, categorized by the type of information requested, are the answers to those questions, given to the best of our professional ability and with the information the district has available at the time.
Click on any one of the categories below to jump to answers to those questions, or scroll through the questions one by one. Check back often - questions will be added as the process continues, and information will be added as it becomes available to us.
Q: How is state aid allocated to the district? Is it disbursed in a lump sum?
A: Building aid from NYS is paid over the life of a project. The life varies depending on the useful life of the asset purchased. For instance, buildings have a longer life than certain equipment components of a building. The state calculates a weighted average after reviewing the various components within an approved project.
The total amount authorized to be spent for a project does not usually equal the “aidable building expense.” For instance, space used for non-instructional purposes is generally not considered aidable. Once the aidable building expense has been determined, the state applies the building aid ratio to that total to determine the amount of aid. For Bethlehem, the 2012-13 building aid ratio is 70.1%. This figure was 70.8% for 2011-12.
Depending on the mix of components within a given project, and the variations within the formulas, there will be a range in net cost, with some elements higher, and some lower.
Q: What would be the cost to taxpayers for a bond? Can we provide what the tax implication would be for a generic $5 million bond, regardless of what was in it?
A: A $5 million project would cost a homeowner with a $250,000 home approximately $12/year – or about five cents per thousand of assessed value – after building aid.
Q: If we don’t add to our debt service, could we increase teachers or extracurricular activities in the next school budget?
A: Over the course of the next five years, annual principal and interest payments average about $10,400,000 per year. As assets reach the end of their useful lives and require replacement, we will need to maintain our investment in these assets in order to preserve the facilities we use, and to maintain compliance with SED standards as to the condition of these assets. Therefore, it is not practical to assume that debt service reductions will be a source of funding for other instructional needs.
A: As of June 30,2012, the principal balance outstanding was $73,455,000. Estimated Building Aid for 2012-13 is $6,650,000. If divided by total debt service of $10,742,000, this yields an aid ratio of 62%. Net cost to taxpayer is about 38%. Remember, the actual percentage will vary for any given project, depending on the amount of costs that are excluded from the aidability formulas.
Q: Can the district consider leasing equipment and still benefit from state aid?
A: Yes. Leasing is just another option in financing. However, since equipment in often part of a larger approved project, a single means of financing is typically used.
Q: What is the cost to the district of issuing a bond (other than its repayment)?
A: Professional fees for things like bond counsel, fiscal advisors to assist with structure and placement of transaction with underwriters, rating agency updates, and preparation of other required notifications (Official Statement, etc.) Fees vary based on the size of the debt issuance, but at a minimum, would be several thousand dollars.
Q: What is the net savings from all reductions made in the 2012-13 school budget? And will a bond referendum negate those savings?
A: $3.3 million was reduced from the planned expenditures. A bond referendum of the relatively low magnitude that we are discussing will not come close to negating these savings.
Q: Is it possible to determine a point where it becomes cheaper to fund improvements yearly – in the operating budget - as opposed to bonding?
A: Getting to this point would require a regular, multi-year investment of monies in maintaining our facilities. The option of funding improvements in the operating budget may also impact the net cost to district residents, due to the state’s funding structure of limiting reimbursement to one building/project per year, not to exceed $100,000. Bonding is an appropriate tool that helps allow funding of more sizable capital needs.
Q: What is the difference to the taxpayer between issuing long-term bonds vs. short-term bonds?
A: There is no difference to the taxpayer. Short-term bonds are used as interim financing as a project is constructed. Long-term bonds are issued to pay off the short-term bonds once the project is completed.
Q: If a bond is approved when would the tax implications take effect? Would this coincide with retiring debt?
A: The District is in the process of researching this question. Please check back as information becomes available.
Q: Are there any projected savings as a result of completing the “priority 1” work in years 1-5?
A: There will be energy savings as a result of completing Priority 1 items; however, these have not been calculated. If the insulation under roofing is saturated and bad, we will replace it during a roofing project. The district will realize energy savings due to the new insulation. We expect other energy savings as a result of the following projects: HS pool dehumidification, Replacing Elsmere’s hot water circulation loop and infilling the opening in the old HS D-Wing Boiler Room.
Q: What is an energy performance contract? Is it more financially beneficial to do an energy performance contract than a bond?
A: Energy performance contracting is where a contractor will replace various equipment (heating, lighting) at no or little cost to the district. The “energy savings” realized by the district because of this work will be calculated and used to pay the contractor over a period of time (approx. 20 years). In theory, the district is not spending more than current amounts. However, the district has to be very careful with these types of agreements to ensure that guarantees and protections are in place.
Q: Is there the possibility for the cost of any project to escalate over time, after it has been approved by voters?
A: Yes. Every project has this possibility depending upon the economy and the industry.
Q: Where did the money go from the 2003, $93 million bond? Can we provide a more detailed accounting of the projects?
A: The following is a breakdown of the expenditures made at each building, the aidable amount and aid percentage, as they relate to the total authorization of $97,870,700 in capital improvements (The $93M bond in 2003 and the $4.9 million EXCEL bond in 2005):
|Building||Expenditure||Aidable Amount||Aidable %|
|Education Services Center||$512,103||$0||0%|
|Totals/Average Aid %||$97,741,156||$86,629,884||88.63%|
Q: Why was only 67.26% of Eagle Elementary's cost eligible for state aid?
A: The District is in the process of researching this question. Please check back as information becomes available.
Q: Does the district realize a profit from the rental of its current facilities (including gymnasiums, BCMS fields, auditoriums, and BCHS fields)?
A: The District is in the process of researching this question. Please check back as information becomes available.
Q: What happens if a bond referendum fails? Can the district go out for another, smaller bond?
A: If the referendum fails, then voters have not given the District authorization to proceed. In order to proceed, another referendum would need to be held, and the amounts and project composition could change.
Q: How often can bonds legally be up for vote? Would this make a difference in issuing small/frequent bonds vs. big/long-term bonds?
A: There is a cost to holding referenda. Practically speaking, there would not be a situation where we would put up more than one separate vote (besides the annual May election).
Q: Is there a proposed timeline for this process? Does the district have a date in mind for a vote?
A: Separate votes are traditionally held in January or February. The vote cannot be held any earlier than 45 days after the Board has approved a project. This means to consider a proposition in late winter, the Board would need to make a decision by late November/early December.
Q: Could work on athletic fields other than the lighted field be considered in a proposal?
A: Yes it could.
Q: Does the proposal include the repair of any school’s playground equipment? Could it?
A: The 5-year Capital Facilities Plan did not address conditions of playgrounds. A bond could include new playground equipment if work is also proposed within the associated facility. This would then be aidable as an incidental cost.
Q: Will there be any opportunity for the community to express opinions on some of the individual items in the report –for example, parking lot paving vs. roof repair?
A: Comments are always welcomed as the Board of Education weighs the choices before them. Their decisions will ultimately be voted upon by the community, so engagement is sought and public input is appreciated. At our October 18 community forum, attendees will be able to address the board in regard to specific items.
Q: Are the structural requirements Dr. Douglas talked about unfunded mandates?
A: It is hard to argue that this falls into the unfunded mandate category. A requirement that the District take care of its facilities is arguably a best practice, and with the fairly generous aid the state provides for this, the local share is greatly reduced.
Q: Can the Board hold a facilities referendum at the same time as the school budget vote and will they consider doing so?
A: The referendum may be held in May. The decision to do so or not rests with the Board.
Q: Can the Board put up two referenda – one for the facilities improvements and one for the turf field?
A: Yes. However, if a synthetic turf field proposition is approved without the passage of a facilities improvement bond, the district would not receive incidental aid and district taxpayers would be responsible for 100% of the cost.
Q: Can there be a condition to a synthetic turf field proposition that if the facilities bond doesn't pass, then a synthetic turf field project is abandoned?
A: The proposition could be possibly worded to this effect, with guidance from counsel. However, because of the incidental aid formulas, the potential turf project is only financially viable if the work on the high school building is approved.
Q: How will the Board of Education ensure accountability in any approved project? How will they ensure that they deliver to the taxpayers what they say the plan will?
A: The approval of a referendum and the associated expenditure thresholds define the work that will be completed. The architect and construction managers, working under the direction of the Board and district staff, see to it that the plans are carried out. We anticipate that there would be regular reports to the Board and the community as work was underway.
Q: Where can I find the district’s enrollment figures?
A: Enrollment figures can be found in the District's Long Range Planning Report, updated annually. The 2011 report can be found here [PDF]. Current enrollment projections indicate that there is sufficient capacity within all schools in both the short and long term.
Q: Where can I find the results of the facilities survey?
Q: Is everything identified in the 5-year plan, the technology proposal and a synthetic turf proposal necessary for the operation of the district?
A: The 5-Year Plan is a picture in time of the issues, problems, concerns and life expectancies of building components. Although the useful lives of these components can be extended through the funding repair and maintenance, ultimately some district assets wear out and need to be replaced. The 5-year Plan identifies needs and suggests a timeline in which to address them.
Q: Who would be able to use a new field (what sports)? Who would decide what team gets to use it (lottery, season schedule, etc.)? Will PE classes use it regularly?
A: Every school sport requiring a competitive field would be able to use the turf field (soccer, field hockey, football, lacrosse). The sports have different seasons (e.g. fall sports are soccer, football and field hockey). The Athletic Director will schedule all competitions and/or practices as appropriate throughout the season, with the primary understanding that this is a competition field so that all teams equally benefit from any field improvement. Physical Education classes will have the opportunity to use the field, if desired.
Q: Has the district considered the health impacts of a synthetic turf field vs. a grass field?
A: Any decisions made by the district are done with the health and safety of the students and school community in mind. Any potential health impacts related to synthetic fields or any athletic-field work will be researched further with the district architect and discussed with the community.
Q: Would the number of home games increase if the district had a turf field?
A: No. Section 2 schedules the games (home and away) equally among the schools and without consideration of a district’s type of turf.
Q: How many home games over the past 10 years have been moved from BC because of unfavorable playing conditions?
Q: Would the district consider mobile lighting for use on athletic fields and would this be more cost effective considering they could be relocated to multiple fields?
Q: If the district installs a synthetic turf field, will future school budgets support athletics?
A: The Board of Education considers all district programs when crafting a spending plan for the district. The board strives to support all programs to the greatest extent possible.
Q: Is it possible to invite an Athletic Director or other representative from a school district that has a synthetic turf field to present to the Board of Education their experience and cost information?
Q: How much would it cost to address/improve drainage of the existing football field and resurface the existing track?
Q: Can residents privately fund a synthetic turf field (e.g. booster clubs, fundraising, etc)?
Q: Can the district provide the cost to taxpayers of a $1 million turf field and $1.5 million turf field with and without state aid?
Q: Would the district save any money or realize any possible revenue by installing a synthetic turf field and new track?
A: Presently, the district realizes revenue by renting district facilities and fields. Use of a synthetic field could be offered to the community without concern of deterioration. It is also possible that due to the synthetic turf field’s availability for play in any temperature (as long as it is not snow covered), that utilization by outside groups could be increased, yielding additional facility rental fee income.
Q: Does the District know the number of sectional events hosted by other area school districts that have synthetic turf fields and what revenue is generated from these events? How does this compare to their cost of funding the entire athletic program?
Q: If we get the turf field could we leverage corporate sponsorship and/or advertising for revenue? Would a pouring – rights contract be allowed?
A: These types of sponsorships are very limited due to SED’s commercialism restrictions, and should not be counted on as a source of funding.
Q: What is the ongoing maintenance cost of the synthetic turf field vs. the ongoing cost of maintaining the grass field/track?
A: There are numerous cost studies of synthetic turf vs. grass maintenance with an extensive amount of variables associated with each. This will further require analysis by the district architect.
Q: Did the district do a cost/benefit analysis of turf vs. natural fields a few years ago?
In January of 2006, the Bethlehem Central School
District Board of Education received a letter from the BCAA
encouraging the board to construct a single synthetic field instead
of the additional natural turf fields proposed in the 2003 bond. The
board, after consultation with the then-Athletic Director and the
project architect, chose to develop two additional natural turf athletic
fields located to the north of BCHS after deeming there was a need
for additional field space.
Click here to view the BCAA letter, the response from the project architect and supporting documentation from the Athletic Director [PDF].
Q: Have we lost revenue by not having as many home games?
A: Over the past many years, the quantity of home games hasn’t changed. Typically when a game is canceled due to rain, it is re-scheduled at home on another date.
Q: Are there alternatives to our current field other than synthetic turf?
A: Playfields can consist of natural material or a variety of synthetic material.
Q: The superintendent stated that it will take roughly 2 years for construction of a turf field if it is approved this year. What will the district do to maintain the fields until that time? Is the cost of that interim maintenance built into the cost of a turf proposal?
A: The O&M Department will continue to maintain the field as it has in previous years. This includes mowing, aerating, and lining. Once the athletic season is completed, the field is top-dressed, fertilized and seeded. The cost of this maintenance is built into the O&M department’s annual operating budget.
Q: Is it cheaper to put a portable LCD projector in elementary classrooms vs. hardwired ones?
A: The short answer is perhaps yes. However there are several differentiating factors to consider that do not make portable projection an ideal solution. Factors like cabling often create tripping hazards and teaching from the front of the room is more difficult while looking in the direction of the projector.
Q: Does the proposal include smart boards?
A: No – the proposal does not include any type of interactive whiteboard.
Q: What are the separate costs of the LCD projector and the cost of the smart boards?
A: Wall mounted LCD projectors including installation; cabling and raceway are in the $1,700 range. Interactive white boards (Smart, Promethean, Eno) including installation can range from $ 1,500 and up depending on size and complexity of installation. However, NO Interactive white boards are being considered in this proposal.
Q: What in the proposed technology improvements is for teacher use? What is for student use?
A: This bond is focused on infrastructure not instructional technology. The proposal up for consideration does include a recommendation to consider the purchase and installation of LCD projectors in the elementary school classrooms which would be for both teacher and student use. Projectors are being included at this time since the design and installation would also be aidable under the project.
Q: Can any of the technology proposals come out of its operating budget?
A: The answer to some extent is yes. Traditionally the operating budget, which does include an equipment budget line, has been used to support instructional technology objectives in the past. The operating budget would either have to be increased to accommodate these additional considerations or reductions would have to be made in other areas of the budget.
Q: Would the Uninterrupted Power Supply be located out of the district?
A: The proposal is recommending only battery replacements for the existing Uninterrupted Power Supplies (UPS). These units are located in all on our data closets within the district and provide backup power, for a limited amount of time to our networking equipment and phone systems, when building power is lost. (During a power outage, without these UPS’s we have no network communication or building-wide phone service available. There are a few emergency phones located strategically in each building that do provide service during a power outage but are limited to only a few locations per building.) The state has recommended that districts consider and implement disaster recovery and business continuity plans. There is no funding however that is provided along with their recommendation.
Q: Why are the technology proposals separate from the 5-year capital facilities plan?
A: Although technology considerations are not one of the items that SED requires as part of the 5-Year capital plan, the district has identified these items as being necessary to address in order to maintain a sound learning environment and to meet the reporting needs mandated by new state regulations. BCSD has always been proactive in identifying short and long term needs so that they can be carefully considered during budget planning to leverage all funding opportunities. Older equipment is more costly to maintain and does not provide the best return on investment after it has reached its published end of support and maintenance date.
Q: Do the technology proposals have anything to do with the technology bond discussed in 2010?
A: No. That proposal focused on a 1:1 laptop/tablet initiative grades 6-12 as well as consideration for a Learning Management System, digital media servers and possibly a new Student Information System. None of those items are included in the latest proposal. The focus is on replacing aging infrastructure that is becoming too costly to maintain or is at the end of its useful life.
Q: How much of the technology bond is aidable?
A: We are investigating the different reimbursement options and will need to report on this item at a later time.
Q: What is the district’s definition of “Operations and Maintenance?”
A: The “O&M Department” handles custodial, maintenance and health & safety matters for the entire district. We also work with the architect and the construction manager during any active construction projects. Please refer to the district website for further department information.
Q: How many people are in O&M and how is the department organized? Are there specialists within the department that we could take advantage of?
A: The department has 36 custodians distributed among the buildings and 14 maintenance staff operating out of the O&M Department. The department is split up in divisions (e.g. carpentry, electric, plumbing, boiler, HVAC, refrigeration, grounds, athletics & delivery). We take advantage of each division’s specific ability.
Q: What sort of training do we provide for the district’s O&M staff and could investment in training lead to better preventative maintenance?
A: O&M maintenance staff has extensive years of knowledge and experience with all the associated building systems. Over the years, we have greatly lessened our need for outside contractors. Most all of the maintenance work for the facilities is handled in-house with the exception of elevator and fire alarm service. We have many preventative maintenance programs for our staff, but a lack of preventative maintenance is not at the heart of the issues identified in the 5-year Plan – we must replace district assets that have exceeded or are exceeding their useful life.
Q: How often does the district inspect its facilities?
A: It depends upon what item is being questioned. As an example, playgrounds, gym equipment, Project Adventure, fire prevention and structures are inspected annually while asbestos materials are 6 months; roofs and HVAC equipment are quarterly. Emergency and exit lights, fire extinguishers are monthly. Swimming pools, AEDs, boilers are done daily to name a few.
Q: Why do our schools have flat roofs? What would it cost to put pitched roofs on our buildings?
Q: Can some of the work identified in the 5-year plan be done by our O&M staff?
A: Based upon the continuous workload of O&M staff and available funding, it is not feasible to use in-house forces. Many of the projects have an aggressive summer construction schedule where O&M could not staff appropriately.
Q: Would doing short-term/more frequent bonds keep us from having to do emergency repair and keep the schools in a good state?
A: In general, all the district facilities are in “good shape.” Short-term/ more frequent projects would reduce the quantity of emergency repairs (typically roofing issues).
Q: If we take state aid for proposed work, does the state Office of General Services get involved?
Q: Why didn’t they fix the pavement in bus garage when they expanded the lot?
A: Although there was a construction contingency built into the project budget, field conditions were discovered (e.g. contaminated soil and unsuitable soil) that altered the amount of work that could be completed.
Q: Are improvements to the tennis courts part of this proposal?
A: The scope of the proposal has not been determined. Repair of the HS tennis courts could be included.
Q: Can we just paint the bleachers?
A: No, the BCHS bleachers project is not cosmetic; the issues relate to their operation, ADA compliance and extensive repair costs and down time.
Q: Will any of these proposals address class sizes?
Q: Have we looked at the interaction of these projects to see if we are creating more work in the long run? (example given: if we install turf to alleviate a drainage issue on the football field, are we then just moving the drainage issue to, say, the parking lot?)
A: The district would review these factors during the design process. The example given above would be flagged before the project was put out to bid. Generally, the identified projects will reduce the amount of maintenance attention to issues because they have been appropriately replaced or fixed.
Q: What is the definition of “Capital Items” vs. “Maintenance Items”?
A: Capital items are usually larger and more expensive projects that cannot be completed or funded by O&M. Maintenance items are usually reoccurring, smaller jobs that are handled by O&M’s staff and annual budget. The State Education Department sets a determining threshold of $25,000 as to whether a project or item is considered “capital” or “maintenance.”
Q: What is the $75,000 for Eagle in priority #2 in the 5-year capital facilities plan?
A: Expanding and improving the drainage of the paved play area ($25,000) and increasing the capacity of the vehicle parking area ($50,000).
Q: What is the $255,000 for Clarksville Elementary identified in “Priority 2” of the 5-year plan and why are we spending money on that building if there are no students in it?
A: All district-owned buildings need to be maintained (e.g. repair of roof leaks, boilers need to be operable, etc.) As detailed in the plan located on the BCSD website, most of the Priority 2 projects for Clarksville deal with roofing that will exceed its useful life and septic system leach field improvements.
Q: Will all work be done by outside contractors (one large company) or inside O & M staff?
A: All bond related work/projects will be completed by outside contractors.
Q: Is there money for construction in O&M’s operational budget?
A: Due to budget cuts, the 2012-13 Special Projects account is $0.
Q: Does the bid process chase away quality? Can we/are we using the lowest “responsible” bid instead of merely the cheapest?
A: The district must abide by the laws governing municipal purchasing. We are required by law to bid these projects, but by carefully setting project specifications, we help define what constitutes a responsible bid. When work is performed, a district-appointed construction manager is on board to watch the project so unacceptable workmanship can be flagged early on.
For more information: