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ECS Looks at Capital Project Costs, Budget Challenges

By Jann Wiswall

With a fixed budget of $9.8 million and an estimated cost of $10.7 million, the Ellicottville Central School Board must identify one or more major elements, or “budget protection alternates,” of the school renovation project that can be cut if estimates come in higher than expected.

This was the task set forth by Superintendent Mark Ward and Mark Vorhees of Campus Construction, which is managing and estimating the project, at the board’s meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 28.

Vorhees and his team had already identified $820,000 of savings from changes to specifications and construction methods. The board agreed with these revisions.

Vorhees said he needed the board’s help to identify another $180,000 of costs that can be identified for elimination (equivalent to 10 percent of the total budget) if the need arises.

As Vorhees explained, there are five key elements to the project: construction of the multi-purpose gymnasium/auditorium; renovation of 10 classrooms in the high school wing; repair of the elementary school’s ventilation system; construction of a protected entryway at the southern entrance to the high school; and replacing lighting around the football field.

Vorhees advised against picking off features of the first three.

“These are key elements of the project. Cutting little pieces here and there won’t get us to goal and might require the architects to go back to the drawing board on certain items,” he explained.

The board was hesitant to identify the southern entrance as an expendable element. The condition of the current entryway is quickly deteriorating, they agreed, and this is the most used entrance of the school. The renovation of that area was designed to improve student safety.

Football field lighting, which carries a $165,000 price tag, got the most discussion. Although the board felt this was a popular project with many voters, Ward pointed out that now that ECS is merging its football team with Franklinville, only two games will be held at home next year, and few soccer games are played under lights.

The fact is there are lights on the field. Everyone agreed they’re not high quality, but the board felt that this was a logical project to put on the table. If it ends up being cut, the school will not be hurt in any significant way and the project could be revisited at some time in the future.

Elementary School Principal Connie Poulin added that, since everyone is expecting 2014-15 to be a difficult budget year and “we’re going to have to make some tough decisions, football lights are hard to argue.”

Vorhees emphasized that giving football lights “budget protection alternate” status doesn’t mean they’re gone.

He said, “If estimates come in lower and contingency funds are not expended, there may still be enough to fund them. This is simply a decision about prioritizing what to cut if there is a need.”

With $165,000 in the alternate pot, the board was short $15,000 of Vorhees’ request. He said he would continue to look for ways to get there, but he felt this put him in “good shape to bid” come spring when the State Education Department is expected to approve the project and bidding can begin.

Superintendent’s Report

Ward gave the board another heads up that the 2014-15 budget will be the “worst yet,” saying that the board has cut and saved everything it can over the past years and that, despite its budget and taxing conservatism all along, this year some very tough cuts may be needed.

While there has been good economic growth in the district over the past year, school tax revenue figures are not yet available, he said.

He said he has outlined these issues in a budget preview article that will be in the school’s January/February newsletter, due to come out next week.

The budget must be approved by the board on April 1. The budget work session schedule will be presented at the next board meeting.

Bullying Update

Elementary School Principal Poulin and Middle/High School Principal Bob Miller are working together to keep the momentum going after a very successful anti-bullying presentation to parents on Jan. 15. Some 120 parents and guardians, representing 50 of the 75 families with seventh and eighth graders at the school, attended the presentation by Dr. Amanda Nickerson, director of the Jean M. Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention at the University of Buffalo.

Miller said parents were pleased with the program and that there already seems to be more awareness about the issue among students. However, both he and Poulin agreed that this was a good first step and that much more needs to be done. Both will be visiting the Victor School District to learn about a Big Time Friends Club there that has been getting good results. Other efforts are in the works, as well.

The next meeting of the Ellicottville School Board will be held Feb. 11 at 7:30 p.m. in the high school library.

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