Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What reasons led the Board of Education to propose a facilities bond?
A: In July 2016, the District observed some cracking, bulging and loose sections of brick on the exterior of Hutchinson School. The District’s masonry architects at Kaese & Lynch assessed the façade and determined that a full replacement of the building envelope (brick façade, roof, windows, and window lintels) was necessary. This assessment was confirmed by a separate firm and a professional cost estimator priced the work at approximately $8.5 million, which would need to be paid for through a bond. As the Board studied additional needs for the building, it was determined that the façade work would require the addition of elevators, lifts and ramps to make the building more accessible. The elevators would require some level of a building extension to preserve valuable classroom space. Additionally, the portable classrooms are nearing the end of their useful life, prompting the Board to explore the feasibility of incorporating that space into a permanent building extension.
Q: Is the District certain that accessibility upgrades are necessary?
A: In addition to the guidance we received from our architects, the District has checked with its attorneys and inquired with the State Education Department about whether ADA accessibility upgrades are necessary. The answer has been definitive across the board that a major renovation or systems upgrade will trigger the need for ADA accessibility compliance. This issue also came up during the most recent 2010 renovations at Colonial. Additionally, the fact that Hutchinson is not accessible does present logistical issues for the school that need to be addressed.
Q: How confident are you in the $8.5 million price for replacing the brick façade at Hutchison? Did you consider alternatives to replacing the façade with new brick?
A: To ensure that we had a solid estimate, the District hired a professional cost estimator to review the façade replacement work. This cost estimator reviewed the scale of work, logistics of the site and price of materials needed in coming up with a detailed estimate. The $8.5 million figure was also in line with what our masonry architect at Kaese & Lynch and pre-bond architects at KG&D expect. Early on in this process, the Board asked Kaese & Lynch about alternative materials to replace the façade. Aside from not wanting to mix different wall systems because they perform differently, using a different material would make the repairs much more difficult, time consuming and expensive. In addition to the external facade, replacement of the steel window lintels, the roof and the windows themselves are also necessary, so even if a different material was feasible to clad the facade with, there is a robust amount of work that must still be done to fix the underlying issues.
Q: Is Hutchinson School safe for students and will it remain safe over the next 3-5 years?
A: Yes. The safety measures that were put into place last year, including erecting scaffolding and fencing off certain areas of the grounds will continue for the foreseeable future. Our consultants have assured us that these measures are sufficient to protect our students and staff. As an additional precaution, we have increased the frequency of our monitoring to further ensure the school’s exterior is safe and are prepared to take additional measures if they are deemed necessary. Last spring, testing of the building showed the interior structure of Hutchinson School be sturdy and safe for learning in the short term.
Q: Why is a new school being proposed to replace Hutchinson School?
A: In addition to the necessary façade/building envelope replacement, the Board identified a number of needs regarding capacity, safety and implementing our instructional program. Over the course of three months, the Board weighed 7 options for a building extension/renovation in addition to the concept of a new school. After a robust decision-analysis process, the new school emerged as the best option to solve the needs at Hutchinson in the short and long-term.
Q: What factors led to the determination that a new school was the best option for Hutchinson?
A: The new school, if approved, will alleviate the need to have students in the suboptimal basement-level classes, create permanent classrooms to replace the portables, provide adequate space for our related services, such as reading, academic intervention, and speech, and allow the most flexibility to solve capacity issues at the building and District level. In considering the safety of our students, a new school was the only option that would solve the challenging layout of the current building and the only one that would bring the school up to modern fire, building and safety standards. It is also the best and most cost-effective way to provide 21st Century Learning spaces that fit the goals of our Strategic Plan. The Board held a rigorous debate as to which option provided the best stewardship of the District’s assets. In the end, the decision-making analysis pointed toward a new school as the best plan to address each of the major issues identified at Hutchinson School for the foreseeable future at an annual cost that was comparable to similarly-sized renovation options.
Q: Are you comfortable with the guidance provided by the various consultants with regard to the need for such a large amount of work at Hutchinson School?
A: The architecture and engineering firm that did the analysis is not the same firm that has provided us with possible solutions. The architectural firm that we use for masonry issues is Kaese and Lynch, which initially recommended the replacement of the building envelope in December 2016 and has advised the District on other masonry issues over the years. That recommendation was confirmed by Christopher Kelly Engineering, which is a separate firm. The architectural firm that has proposed the various options for consideration for Hutchinson is KG&D, which was publicly bid through a Request for Proposal process for pre-bond and feasibility work. KG&D is separate from both the firms that recommended the façade replacement to begin with. It is important to also note that if the community does approve the bond proposal, there is no guarantee that KG&D will continue on as the architect as a separate Request for Proposal will be put out for design and construction of the new building and other capital improvements.
Q: Where would the new school go and when would it be built?
A: The Board has been shown three possible locations for the new school on the current Hutchinson property: near the rock outcropping by the portables, Hutchinson Field, and the lower playground near the shopping center between Lincoln and Second avenues. Concepts for a new school are preliminary and design details will be determined with input from the community. Provided the bond is approved in the spring, the estimated timeline for the completion of a new building is 3-5 years during which students would remain in the current Hutchinson School. It is important to note that the construction timeline for the renovation/extension options was similar to that of new construction.
Q: What is the status of the District's relationship with KGD Architects?
The Board originally selected KGD in May 2017 to conduct pre-bond and feasibility work following a competitive Request for Proposals process. The original timeline outlined in the RFP called for a bond referendum vote in December 2017. The original scope of work involved a select number of projects that were clearly outlined in the RFP. As a result of the in-depth bond feasibility study, the Board requested additional information and analyses that was above and beyond what was initially conceptualized in the RFP. KGD provided that information at no additional cost to the District. Additionally the timeline has now changed and the referendum is planned for May 2018.
For these reasons, the District negotiated an extension of the original RFP and the proposal was approved by the Board at its meeting on Dec. 19. The proposal is inclusive of KGD’s and additional professional service firms’ work henceforth on the conceptual design of the New Hutchinson School, exploration of additional options for District-wide projects, geotechnical exploration and structural analysis of the Hutchinson site and rock formations, and attendance at future Board of Education meetings as necessary to prepare for the May 2018 vote.
Q: What is the cost of the new school and what does that cost include?
A: The District’s architects have estimated that constructing a new Hutchinson School will cost approximately $42 million. This figure may change as the size and features of the building are determined, but the cost is inclusive of all electrical, plumbing, lighting, and furniture necessary to make the building ready for students. It is also inclusive of contingency and cost-escalation funds, as well as money to abate and demolish the old school, remove rock for the new building, and restore features to the site when construction is complete. It is important to note that school districts are required to pay workers “prevailing wage,” which is set by New York State.
Q: How will this affect my taxes?
A: The exact details on tax implications can not be known until the full scope of bond work is determined. The Board is working with Capital Markets Advisors to help project the financial impact of the bond and maximize the amount of state building aid we receive. The new school at Hutchinson is likely to add about $1.9 million in annual debt service over 30 years. This translates to about a $480 increase to the taxpayer based on the average assessed home value of $810,000.
Q: How much would the renovation/extension option have cost?
A: A comparable-sized renovation/extension option was estimated to cost $27 million. While this option is less expensive in total dollars, renovations can only be financed over 15 years, vs. 30 years for new construction, meaning the cost to taxpayers is virtually the same as a new building on an annual basis. It is important to note that the renovation/expansion option would leave two-thirds of Hutchinson School essentially untouched and the District currently has a minimum of $5 million in documented future projects for the building that would still need to be addressed. The fact that a new school would resolve all short and long-term concerns for Hutchinson School played a large factor in the decision-making process.
Q: What else will be included in the bond proposal?
A: The Board has been reviewing needs across the District related to capacity, infrastructure and athletic facilities. The Board is targeting Dec. 19 to determine its preliminary bond scope proposal, which will then be reviewed as part of the SEQRA environmental review process. The District’s architects will begin the initial design of these projects and then the Board will use that information to adopt a final scope in March. The final scope is what will then be voted on at the referendum scheduled for May 2018. The Board is also working to develop a strategic facilities plan to address capital improvements over time.
Q: Is the high school/ middle school really over capacity by 300-400 students?
A: Absolutely not. Recent capacity studies have shown that the Middle School is operating approximately 40 students above its functional capacity while PMHS is operating approximately 65 students above functional capacity. This does NOT, however, mean we do not have sufficient space for our students as HS/MS schedules allow rooms to be utilized for multiple classes in a given day. Guidelines do indicate that most of our rooms are considered “overscheduled” because they are in use as much as 9 periods a day. Ideally, our rooms would be scheduled less frequently to allow more time for setup and breakdown. Our principals work hard to maximize the efficiency of our space and because of that we are able to offer a robust academic program for all students.
Q: Why does the District need to bond for capital improvement?
A: Each year the District allocates funds in its operating budget to address capital improvements such as painting classrooms and installing LED light fixtures. However, larger, more expensive projects tend to be funded through bonding. The New York State tax cap law limits the amount that property taxes can be raised each year, which has forced boards of education to make tough choices on what can fit into the operating budget, approximately 75% of which is appropriated for teachers, support staff, benefits/pension costs, technology and supplies directly related to learning. The inclusion of a significant capital improvement into the operating budget would likely force the District to exceed the cap, or cut into curriculum or programming funds. Additionally, bonding helps spread the cost over at least the useful life of the borrowing period. The Pelham Public Schools are fortunate to have a AAA credit rating and a low debt to market-value ratio, which helps ensure low interest rates when borrowing is needed.
Q: What is the Board of Education doing to cut costs and relieve the tax burden on residents?
A: Each year, the Board of Education and District employ a zero-based budgeting approach to build the annual operating budget. This method serves to ensure that each component of the budget is justified and necessary before putting the plan forward to voters for the annual referendum. Over the past several years, many measures have been taken to find efficiencies and reduce costs. For example, over the past several years, the District has strategically replaced lighting fixtures with LED bulbs to save on energy costs. Additionally, the school facilities operate on a dual-fuel heating system, which allows the District to choose between using gas or oil to heat our buildings depending on which is less expensive in any given season. Each year, the Board engages in a line-by-line budget review in public session. Over the years, this approach has led to efficiencies in the budget, such as a reduction in contingency allocations and the strategic use of reserve funds. Since the inception of the tax cap in 2012-13, annual tax increases have always been at or below the cap with the last four years coming in below 2% as follows: 1.92%, 1.84%, 0.05% and 1.98%. This represents a significant shift from years ago, where increases were routinely higher than 5% per year between 1998 and 2008.