With summer vacation just weeks away, district officials at Bethlehem Central schools are preparing for upgrade projects to begin as part of the 2012-13 bond initiative.
Seven contracts were awarded by the Bethlehem Central Board of Education in June as part of the facilities improvement projects. The contracts, worth $16.6 million, will allow for improvements to get under way. The majority of the bond included money for upgrades to district buildings.
“I really hope the public will have some patience with us over the next year and a half to two years,” said Superintendent Tom Douglas. “There will unfortunately be some inconveniences, as with any major remodeling.”
In March of 2013, the majority of voters approved a $20.2 million facilities proposition as the district was already a year behind its five-year maintenance plan due to lack of funds and staff cutbacks. Upgrades were suggested to fix the infrastructure of buildings, upgrade water and lighting fixtures, replace aging equipment and upgrade outdated technology systems.
Voters did not approve funding for the installation of a $3.8 million artificial turf athletic field, which included a regulation-size track, improvements to spectator seating and press box and a new score board.
According to District Business Officer Judi Kehoe, the district anticipates that it will receive aid on 95 percent of the cost of the project. The state then applies a building aid ratio to that total to determine the amount of aid the district will receive.
“For Bethlehem, the aid ratio is approximately 70 percent,” said Kehoe. “Building aid from the state is paid over the life of a project, not in a lump sum. This corresponds to the repayment term on the bonds issued to finance the project and helps lessen the local tax burden over that same period.”
Douglas said students will not be disturbed during the final two weeks of the school year because inside work will begin during vacation.
One of the first things to be worked on are the district’s athletic fields. Many of the fields need work to help with drainage issues and irrigation. New grass will also be planted. The tennis courts and track will all be resurfaced, and lighting will be added to the stadium field.
With these upgrades, Director of Facilities and Operations Gregg Nolte said the public will not be able to access those areas, and use of district fields will not allowed this summer. Some woods will also be cleared near the middle school tennis courts.
“A lot of the trees are growing into the fences and causing debris, and the root system is causing some of the courts to heave,” said Nolte. “That’s part of the reason the courts have deteriorated so we’re creating a little bit of a buffer.”
Nolte said if anyone is looking for field use, the public should contact the district office for scheduling purposes.
Douglas said the main athletic field will not be ready by the fall, but the district has agreements with Union College and the University at Albany for home games to be played on their fields. The district will also make sure all senior nights continue to be special events for Bethlehem’s student athletes.
Members of the public will also not have access to Elsmere, Glenmont and Hamagrael Elementary because of asbestos abatements and playground installation. The playgrounds will be available for use until about mid-July, when the equipment is slated for installation.
Nolte said asbestos abatement will take place in part of Slingerlands Elementary. The town will be running its camp in part of the building and the playground, but the rest of the building will be closed off.
“We want to make sure the town talks to anyone involved in the program that we have work going on at the school, but it is safe to have their kids there,” said Nolte. “We would never put the safety of the kids at risk.”
The middle school will have restricted access as the bathrooms are being renovated. Summer enrichment programs will continue there as planned. The high school will also have restricted access as the water line is replaced and technology upgrades are made.
Douglas said district officials are working hard to make sure the projects come in on budget and on time.
“If any members of the public have questions, they should feel free to call our office or visit the website,” said Douglas. “We would ask that once construction is fully under way, please stay out of the construction areas so we can ensure safety and not hold up the project.”
Nolte said residents can expect updates from his office about the project over the next two years.