By Jann Wiswall
The Ellicottville Central School Board hosted a meeting on Nov. 13 to obtain preliminary feedback on proposed upgrades to the school building – primarily the sections built in the early 1960s.
Nearly 30 people attended the meeting, including the board, members of the 2009 Strategic Planning Task Force, teachers and other interested community members. SEI Design Group presented a conceptual architectural sketch of a multipurpose gymnasium/performance space, a list of additional proposed renovations and rough pricing estimates. M.E. Engineering explained the complicated process of funding the renovations within state-dictated parameters.
ECS Superintendent Mark Ward explained that a number of factors prompted the board to move ahead with preliminary plans. The first was the recommendations from the strategic planning process to modernize and improve numerous substandard areas of the facility. The second was the Building Condition Survey conducted by SEI in 2010 – a survey that is mandated by the state every five years to evaluate and inspect all systems, structures and the physical plant. The survey documented for the state a large number of needed repairs and building inadequacies that must be addressed in any future renovation plans.
SEI Design Group Senior Principal Michael Ebertz began his presentation by explaining that SEI’s study yielded a list of some $13 million in potential renovation costs, but that with adjustments and inclusion of down-the-line cost savings, the community might be looking at a total of $8-9 million for the proposed project.
Ebertz outlined some of the most critical issues in SEI’s view. They included: replacement of 50-year-old roofing, repairs to exterior building facades, hazardous materials abatement (e.g. asbestos or PCBs which aren’t necessarily present, but often are an issue in older buildings), accessibility issues related to ADA requirements, significant electrical work (yielding cost savings over time), water seepage and ventilation issues, exterior lighting and technology upgrades.
Ebertz also presented a preliminary rendering of what a newly configured multipurpose space might look like. The space would involve a modest addition off the back of the building and would contain the gymnasium with a movable stage, telescoping bleachers, athletics locker rooms, and band and chorus rooms. This item generated very productive discussion from audience members, who suggested a number of revisions and issues to consider as plans progress.
Charles Bastian, a financial consultant with Bernard P. Donegan, Inc., explained the financial side of “how you build a project” in a complicated funding environment. His team is working closely with SEI to ensure that as much as possible of the proposed project can be funded in part by state aid (at a rate of 65.1 percent on the dollar). His team also studied property assessment trends within the district to project revenue over time, existing bond pay offs (ECS currently holds two bonds, one to be paid off in 2020, the other in 2023), and the maturity schedule of a new bond (which would be paid off in 16 years). Once plans are more firmly outlined by the board and SEI, he will be able to calculate accurately how much in public funding will be requested and what that would mean to individual taxpayers.
Audience response to the evening’s presentations was broadly supportive. It was agreed that the current condition of some systems in the facility are unacceptable – particularly the ventilation and water seepage issues. One participant commented that the overall plan needs to “last 50 years – it has to work for the long term,” to which others agreed.
Ward noted that “in no way is this discussion about what will be done – it is about what could be done and what it might cost.” He also pointed out that “we can’t meet everyone’s needs,” but “must look at the pros and cons of each issue and continue to prioritize.” Ward also encouraged continued participation in the process from the community. A next meeting has not yet been scheduled.