On Wednesday, March 8, the Bethlehem Central Board of Education hosted a community meeting to discuss the future of Clarksville Elementary School after the building’s current tenant, the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, expressed interest in purchasing the property. The school was closed in 2011 due to declining enrollment but is still owned by the school district. At the time, students were reassigned to either Eagle Elementary School or Slingerlands Elementary School.
At the March 8 meeting, Superintendent Jody Monroe and Chief Business and Financial Officer Judith Kehoe presented information on:
- district enrollment projections;
- residential housing development in the district;
- long-term costs of maintaining Clarksville;
- legal requirements in selling district property; and
- the operational impact of a potential sale of the building.
Sheriff Craig Apple also attended the meeting to discuss his department’s presence in Clarksville and plans for the property should a sale be approved by the district. The Sheriff’s Office first approached school district officials in fall 2016 about a possible purchase of the property. The Sheriff’s Office has rented the building since July 2012. Superintendent Jody Monroe announced in February there would be public discussion regarding a possible sale of the building.
No decision has been made regarding any sale of the property. Below are several questions posed by those attending the March 8 forum and collected through an online survey. Video of the community meeting can also be viewed below.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Is there enrollment data that supports a decision to sell Clarksville Elementary School?
In the summer of 2016, the Bethlehem Central School District authorized the Capital District Regional Planning Commission (CDRPC), a regional planning and resource center serving Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga and Schenectady counties, to prepare five-year district-wide school enrollment projections annually through the 2018-19 school year. What they found was that total enrollment has declined 12.9% to its lowest level in the last 20 years. Enrollment in K-5, 6-8 and 9-12 has declined across the board. Only K-5 shows any suggestion of stabilizing in its enrollment. Total enrollment is projected to be at 4,500 students for 2017-18 which is a decline of nearly 2% from 2016-17. Overall, enrollment is projected to decline by more than 400 students by 2021-22.
Declining enrollment means the district has the capacity for students within our existing schools.
What if enrollment projections are wrong and student enrollment numbers climb in future years? Would there be a need to build yet another elementary school?
The district tries to make the best decisions possible with the information it has at the time. The district sought the professional input of the Capital District Regional Planning Commission to analyze data, trends and key indicators including birth rates, residential housing activity and more, to produce the enrollment projections.
After the report was received, the school district followed up with the Town of Bethlehem Planning Department to get more up-to-date estimates regarding new residential development outlined in the CDRPC report. The information from the town indicated that new home construction would not likely lead to spikes in enrollment because those already planned and approved will come online over several years, not all at once. In addition, the town data indicates that of the 305 housing units planned between now and 2022, more than 160 – or nearly 53 percent – are multi-family residences. Multi-family units attract a demographic less likely to have school-age children.
Using these projections, the district does not foresee a need to build another elementary school. If the school district was to see a large increase in enrollment, the district would consider the use of “flex zones” or flexible attendance zones in future years if necessary. These are areas in which newly entering students could be assigned to one of two or more potential schools based on enrollment.
How much money does the district owe for debt service on bonds issued to support capital improvements at Clarksville Elementary School?
There is a bond still outstanding on work that was completed in 2003. The current amount owed as of June 30, 2017 is $1,674,000, plus interest of $219,000. The debt is set to be paid off in June 2022.
What precisely happens to any money received for the “sale” of the Clarksville Elementary School?
If Clarksville Elementary School was to be sold, the proceeds would be restricted for payment of the outstanding Bond debt and placed in a Mandatory Reserve.
Has the School District conducted a cost-benefit analysis for selling Clarksville Elementary School versus leaving it vacant while Bethlehem’s development plays out?
If the district was to decide not to sell Clarksville Elementary School there would be a risk that the Albany County Sheriff’s Office would vacate the building. There are currently no known prospects for tenants which would lead to the potential loss of $60,000 in rental income for 2017-18 plus another $300,000 through 2021-22. Additionally, if the building was vacated the district is responsible for all future costs of maintaining the building. This includes the insurance which costs about $5,000 a year and heating, alarm system maintenance, pest control, roof repairs and play ground mulch which costs around $26,000 a year. Payment would also resume for security detail at the high school for the end of the year which is around $15,000.
The district’s five-year facilities plan, issued in December 2015, has also identified more than $2 million in near-term capital projects that are needed to maintain Clarksville Elementary School.
Does the Albany County Sheriff’s Office plan to renovate, develop, or expand Clarksville Elementary School? Are there plans to change the outside grounds (i.e. the playground, vernal pond, etc.)?
If Clarksville Elementary School was purchased by the Albany County Sheriff’s Office they would retain the building as an emergency shelter, remain available for community use of space for activities (karate, Boy Scouts, etc.), and add additional county services. Their current plan is to build a one-story, approximately 40’ x 40’ garage for storage of larger vehicles on the outside grounds but plan to keep the playground area.
What are the remodeling limitations on Clarksville Elementary School due to its placement on the National Register of Historic Sites?
The extent of any remodeling limitations due to the building’s placement on the National Register of Historic Sites is unknown. If sold, the new owner would need to speak directly with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, who administers this program.
Will the Albany County Sheriff’s Office continue to allow public use of the gymnasium for basketball, volleyball, etc? Will additional community programs be offered?
The Sheriff has indicated his intentions to continue the existing public uses of space, and a desire to move other programs into the building.
How much will the addition of increased services change the through traffic at Clarksville Elementary School?
Sheriff Craig Apple has indicated he does not anticipate any appreciable increases in traffic.
Will the Albany County Sheriff’s Office guarantee that the facility will NEVER be converted into a jail or holding facility?
The Albany County Sheriff’s Office has indicated it has NO intention of turning Clarksville Elementary School into a holding facility or jail.
Will the State Police join the Albany County Sheriff’s Office at the property?
This is unknown.
Has the District considered changing the lease agreement so that the Albany County Sheriff’s Office can make changes to Clarksville Elementary School?
The current lease allows changes, but requires that upon vacating the premises, the Sheriff needs to restore the property to its pre-rental condition.
Has the Albany County Sheriff’s Office considered using the old Blue Cross/Blue Shield building for its offices?
The District is not aware of what other properties the Sheriff’s Office may have considered for use.
How much did it cost to build the Eagle Elementary school?
Eagle Elementary School cost $12.15 million to construct. It was approved by voters in 2003 and opened in 2008.
How much is Clarksville Elementary School worth?
Clarksville Elementary School’s assessed value was recorded by the Town of New Scotland in 2016 at $1,702,300. As part of the consideration of the request from the Albany County Sheriff’s Department to purchase the school, the district had the property appraised by Caryn Zehn Appraisals, LLC at $410,000. Some of the key factors in the appraisal were the school’s condition, its appeal to a specialized market, and other similar types of properties in the area have stayed on the market for 12-36 months and were then sold for a fraction of the asking price.
How much has the Albany County Sheriff’s Office offered for Clarksville Elementary School? What would a comparative commercial building sell for in the Albany County area?
The school district is responding to a request from the Sheriff’s Office about the district’s willingness to consider a sale to them. The district has not received an offer, but would anticipate that if it was sold, the price would be at fair market value. A comparative commercial building’s market value would be close to the appraised value.
How much is the Albany County Sheriff’s Office currently paying for rent?
Currently the Albany County Sheriff’s Office pays $54,000/year, plus in-kind service patrols for the end of the school year. The County pays all operating costs (utilities, snow removal, etc.) and the District maintains specified building systems (HVAC, fire & other alarms, energy management, etc.).
In addition to the SNN email and school website, what additional steps did the District take to inform community members/taxpayers (particularly in Clarksville and the Town of New Scotland residents) about this important “community forum”?
In addition to three SNNs (Feb. 2, Feb. 23, Mar. 7) and the website post on the district homepage, multiple news stories had been covered by Spotlight News, Times Union and Altamont Enterprise. A PSA ran on BCN-TV for two weeks and additional meeting reminders were posted on Twitter (Feb.2, Mar.1, Mar. 7) and press releases were delivered to all local media.
Why wasn’t the Community Forum held in Clarksville?
The district holds all of its community forums in the district. Without knowing how many community members would be attending, the district needs to have adequate space that can be set up appropriately. The high school is the most appropriate venue for flexible meeting space.
How is the District addressing concerns that the sale of Clarksville Elementary School is already a “done deal” to residents?
The district respects the opinions of those who may feel this is the case, but stands by the statements that have been made at the State of the Schools address in February, as well as at the Community Conversation, that we are responding to a request from the Sheriff, and have only begun to consider whether this is a direction the district wishes to proceed. There are many details that would still need to be determined, and several levels of approvals that would be required.
There are tiles hanging in the Clarksville Elementary School cafeteria that were purchased as part of a fundraiser. Will those who purchased tiles be able to get them back?
If the tiles can be removed without damaging them, and if the purchasers wish to have them, the district will gladly return them. If this is not possible, the district can preserve them digitally, for photographic reproduction/preservation.