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Batavia school district details funding options for master facilities plan

Batavia Public School District 101 staff presented more details on the replacement of the district’s four oldest elementary schools at the third of four community engagement sessions at Batavia High School on March 10.

“One of the questions that keeps coming up as we walk around and that people are waiting for us to answer is about what happens to my students during the construction,” Superintendent Lisa Hichens said.

Hichens said that while there has yet to be a definitive plan, the district expects instruction during the construction period could go two ways.

“When we do have a new school that’s being constructed, our goal would be to build that school adjacent to the existing school so students could attend their old school while they’re building the new school. And then when that school breaks, students just walk across the campus to their new school,” Hichens said. “Anything at the middle school or the high school is always going to be scenario one, since there’s nowhere else to put them.”

Hichens said that not all elementary schools would be able to have a new campus built near them.

“Scenario two would be if we have to move elementary school students around. Worst case [would be] if we weren’t able to complete the projects in the summer or contain them to one part of the school,” she said. “Sometimes when we do all the projects at one time, there is efficiency in scale. We have a lot of factors to consider. I can assure you that our goal is also to minimize the disruptions to students.”

Chief Financial Officer Anton Inglese reintroduced the three funding options for the facilities plan, which initially were introduced during the Feb. 24 session.

“They all take place over five years, and they all start basically in the year 2025. The reason being is that is when the school district’s debt expires,” he said.

Inglese said the three funding options would determine how the work could be done on the schools.

Option A would cost the district $40 million and save Batavia taxpayers $750 on average in 2026, according to meeting documents.

“This wouldn’t go very far and would only be able to help us take care of basic maintenance, safety and security projects,” Inglese said.

Option C would cost the district $250 million with an estimated $375 average tax increase, which would allow for more project freedom, including the full replacement of the Alice Gustafson Elementary School and J.B. Nelson Elementary School buildings, according to meeting documents.

Inglese said Option B would sit in the middle, costing the district $180 million without any increase or decrease in taxes.

H.C. Storm and Louise White Elementary would be fully replaced under Option B, according to meeting documents.

“[Option B] would be handled in two phases,” Inglese said. “We would defer work on Alice Gustafson and J.B. Nelson until 2035.″

Architectural firm DLR Group has assisted in the development of the facilities plan since 2018.

“Ultimately what the core team realized was the cost to rebuild versus renovate was more cost effective to the district,” DLR Group Project Manager Keri VanSant said. “[It would take] less time to implement the work and cause less student disruption.”

VanSant said the district’s facilities should reflect how education methods have changed.

“Let’s think back to when these buildings were constructed, the ’50s, the ’60s, the ’70s,” VanSant said. “Education was a lot different then than it is now.

“Classes aren’t just the teacher being sage on the stage and disseminating information in the lecture format anymore,” VanSant said. “There’s a number of different learning modalities.”

Later in the meeting, parents and community members discussed funding options in small groups.

“I really appreciate the presentations because you can tell that they’ve been really looking at every possibility over the past two years and they’ve got the best of the best working on this,” J.B. Nelson Elementary School parent Stina Castellani said. “I wish it got to more people, too.”

Castellani, who has attended all three engagement sessions so far, said the district should prioritize presenting information to residents who weren’t in attendance at the sessions or don’t have students in the district.

“All the schools that we have, there’s eight schools, and two of them are not going to sway that vote,” Castellani said. “The rest of the population will say, ‘We can put up [with] J.B. Nelson and Alice Gustafson. Our kids don’t even go there. It’s not a big concern for us.’ ”

The community engagement chairs will present their findings from the four sessions and propose a comprehensive facilities plan later in the spring, according to the district’s website.

The fourth and final community engagement session is scheduled for March 24.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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