I will be voting YES on Feb. 9 in support of the New Paltz Middle School renovation project.
Despite the signs around town that imply that the New Paltz district voters are being asked to support an $80 or $100 million dollar project, the renovation of the New Paltz Middle School actually comes with a pricetag of $49 million dollars. Of that total cost, $29 million will come from local taxpayers. The $80 and $100 million dollar figures being floated by opponents of the project do not reflect the cost of the project itself but represent the taxpayers' share of the entire debt service to be paid over the length of a 20-year loan (home buyers might not have proceeded even with their own home mortgages if they had seen only the debt service totals). When analyzing the cost and scope of the project, I would hope that voters consider the $29 million dollar figure, the portion the community will be responsible for.
Many people have voiced their concerns that the state might withdraw its support for the building project, like they have withdrawn school aid midyear across the state. What the state is able to do, and what Governor Paterson has already done, is to reduce only the state's share of districts' operating budgets, the budgets that pay the bills to run and operate schools from July to June. The state has never withdrawn support for a building project once it has commenced, nor are they legally entitled to once ground is broken. In fact, Governor Paterson's new proposed budget includes an increase in school building aid.
I fully understand that $29 million dollars is still a significant amount of money. But the recent crumbling of a section of roof at the middle school (and the subsequent expenditure to address it) convinces me that band-aid solutions are no longer an option. In the past the easy thing to do was to patch up the myriad of small, medium and large problems as they arose and to ignore the bigger picture. Unfortunately, stop gap measures will not make the problems facing the middle school disappear. The need to address the inadequacies of the building will never lessen and nor will the price tag decrease. The $29 million dollar local share of the project will buy $25 million dollars worth of improvements in a few years (and even less after that). Antiquated, inefficient, energy-guzzling heating and ventilation systems will continue to drain money from the district's annual operating budgets and cost taxpayers money, year after year, gallon of oil by gallon of oil.
I no longer have children in the New Paltz School District (my children sat in middle school basement classrooms with exposed pipes and in second floor classrooms that required opening windows in the winter, over a decade ago). But I will be supporting the renovation initiative on Feb. 9 because I think it is a necessary and responsible thing to do.