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March Bond Vote Eyed for Bedford Central Schools

Officials lay out ambitious timeline to approve measure that would bring major overhauls to West Patent, Fox Lane Middle School.

If all goes according to plan, voters could be deciding next March on a major bond referendum for

The timeline, unveiled at Wednesday's school board meeting, is ambitious in nature. It is one that will require hiring a litany of consultants and assembling a broad cross section of folks to act as a community sounding board.

The process will be used to guide an expansive plan, a massive overhaul of , improved science labs and cafeteria for , turf field replacement at and a series of lower-level repairs for various buildings.

Mark Betz, assistant superintendent for business, laid out what needs to be done for hiring professional support. He explained that in the coming months, the district will need to hire key officials such as a construction manager, environmental consultant and independent reviewer of costs.

Meanwhile, the district's existing architect will also spend time testing preliminary plans with the state's education department, which has to give its approval for the project, while working on a more detailed scope. At this point, the current designs and scope are conceptual, as opposed to being set in stone.

The district faces several hurdles in addition to the state, including a sign-off from BOCES, an environmental review that could take 60-120 days, and in properly engaging the community to build support. The later factor will include public sessions during the fall and winter to get input and to educate.

“No one wants to put out any kind of a vote to the community and find out that they weren’t interested in it to begin with," Betz said.

Superintendent Jere Hochman went into detail about the community engagement side of the timeline. The goal is to have a special committe set up by August. It would be advising the district and assisting with research and planning for areas such as financing, the communications process and the design of the plan. To make sure the committee is inclusive to the community, the intent is to have folks representative of each school in the district, members of the district's foundation programs, parents without kids in the public schools, and the Fox Lane Sports Boosters.

“We got a lot of creative, innovative folks in this community: students, staff and community members, and so we want to have a way to filter that in, in the early stages," Hochman said.

In September, the committee would review a preliminary concept plan and financing. It would also do research on sustainability for the project and design features. In October, a survey of the community is planned to look at where people stand on the proposal. The district had a similar survey commissioned last October, by phone and Internet components. In that case, ideas that had the most popular support included upgrading the buildings for next technology, classroom upgrades, and fixing outdated infrastructure.

“They heard very closely what we were talking about," Hochman said.

After details of the capital plan were explained in surveys, the district found that majorities would be in support (57 percent for the phone survey, 65 percent for online).

After that, the next steps would come in December, when a plan would be recommended to the board. On Jan 23, 2013, the board would decide to send the plan to the voters. The referendum would be held on March 19, 2013, with community events in between, such as building tours and meetings.

Hochman described March as a good time because it is at a point in the school where people are not away - it's only a week before spring break - and felt that alternative times of the year, such as coupling with the annual May date for budget and school board referendum, didn't make as much sense.

If the bond is approved, the district is not out of the woods yet. Betz explained that state approval would still be ongoing - that whole process that could take three to eight months - with the architect working on final specifications. This would be followed by a contractor bidding process that would take two to three months, with coordination going on amng the various hired groups as construction begins.

Although no cost was discussed, Hochman hopes to have figures by the board's July 11 meeting, which coincides with its annual reorganization for the start of the 2012-13 fiscal year. The total cost is expected to be somewhere in the tens of millions, he explained.

It does not appear that the bond would cover all of the capital plan. Replacing the high school turf and its connnected track, which was met with underwhelming support in the fall survey, was discussed as somethign that could be paid for by other means. Such ways could include soliciting provide donations, an approach similar to bring a turf field to Horace Greeley High School.

While preparing for a bond vote and major construction is a big undertaking, school board members praised the administration for laying out the situation. While the plan was discussed last year, the district has taken an opimistic tone. At , administrators brought the plan out again, taking an aspirational approach that focuses on building needs and sustainability.

Board member Suzanne Grant said she appreciated “the one-two punch of last time’s meeting together with this." She added that she appreciated having the data to go along with it.

Fellow board member Jennifer Gerken stated what while the previous meeting was about needs and wants, this week's takes a look at outreach and  “assessing what you can get and what is realistic.”

Gerken, who called the proposed timeline "daunting," also felt that there needs to be a mindfulness of the fact that West Patent is one of five elementary schools, referencing the fact that the others will have more dated things once the overhaul is done.

“I hope that we can be respectful of that as we go through,” she said.

“There’s no doubt that things need to be done,” said board Vice President Eric Karle.

School board President Susan Elion Wollin sensed that there was interested in moving along with the timeline, and asked about using the July 11 meeting as a time to get more specific.

Don Pachner June 29, 2012 at 12:33 PM
Unfortunately, the Bedford Central board has lost all credibility with me since they allowed construction of a totally unnecessary multi-million dollar sports stadium complete with enoiurmous floodlights that are turned on at all hours (and significantly contribute to light pollution and conspicuous energy consumption flying in the face of Bedford 2020's initiatives) at a time when budgets for the arts and sciences are difficult to balance. While it may have been supported by community contributions, it is symbolic of school board priorities and has made the wrong impresson on residents of neighboring school districts (they tell me that Bedford has lost its emhasis on academics, arts and sciences.) It is a sign that Bedford Central has lost its sense of priorities and caved in to the pedestrian craving for varsity sports as their number one priority. I don't think the excessive energy consumption of light towers reminiscent of Yankee Stadium's is being paid by those whom contributed to their installation. I cannot in good conscience now vote for a bond to support the other important programs, which are important and obvioiusly low on their totem pole, seemingly proposed as an afterthought. On top of that, I don't see any progress in eliminating diesel buses that are a danger to the health of our children's and our community's lungs. This is a sad state of affairs.
Lisa Buchman June 29, 2012 at 11:26 PM
Hi Don, it's our understanding that much of the funds for the stadium (the fields, stands and lights) were donated. And, according to the district, the only time the main lights are on is for events. Additional lights (not as bright as the main sports lights) are on two poles that face toward the school for people who walk, jog, and play on the field at night. Those go off sometime before 10 or 11 p.m. District officials also told Patch that campus lighting has been reduced significantly and a timer system has been installed. Just to clarify these specific points for Patch readers.

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