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Amherst School District residents to vote on $29.6 million capital project

Amherst School District residents will vote in a special referendum on a $29.6 million package of capital projects that includes replacing the turf field and track at the high school.

All day voting will be held from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Dec. 13 in the south gymnasium of the high school, 4301 Main St., Amherst.

Much of the proposed improvements include upgrades and routine maintenance at all the district's facilities, which were decided upon following a five-year building condition survey commissioned by the Amherst School Board. The district is seeking to pursue $11.7 million in improvements at the high school, including $2.37 million to replace the turf field and track at the high school.

Amherst Schools Superintendent Anthony J. Panella on Wednesday acknowledged that it was unusual to have a capital projects referendum prior to or after a district-wide  vote on the entire school budget, which is usually held in May. However, he said, the timing is critical in this case because of the process for getting the project approved through the state Education Department. If the referendum is approved by district voters, three-quarters of the cost will be reimbursed by the state.

"That can be a lengthy process," said Panella. "Anywhere from six to 12 months, depending upon the scope of the project."

The district plans to replace the turf field and track by the start of the 2018-2019 school year, when they both will have reached the end of their normal lifespans, Panella said. Construction on those projects would need to commence by the summer of 2018 to meet that goal, he explained.

"If  we waited until the May vote for the (2017-2018) budget, unfortunately, it would probably push back it back another year on the construction for turf field and track replacement, because we're really limited to when we can do that work over the summer. Otherwise, it's in use during the school year by our sports teams," Panella said.

If the cost of replacing the turf field and track is not included in the capital projects referendum, the district would otherwise be forced to pick up the entire cost of  both projects.

"Our goal also is to make sure we're being responsible to the taxpayers. If we were to incur the entire cost of the replacement of the field and the turf... it wouldn't be responsible when we can't have it in the capital projects budget and receive 75 percent of the aid money in return," Panella said.

Other proposed capital improvements at the high school include improvements designed to meet with federal Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, replacing windows, upgrading technology and improvements to building's plumbing system, as well as its heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

"There's a significant amount of maintenance. I would also say we have some exciting educational programming proposals in there as well, as it relates to the high school, when we look at the cafeteria and art rooms, technology rooms and our music classrooms," said Panella.

The referendum also includes $2.6 million in upgrades at the middle school; $519,824 to upgrade the water distribution system, along with resurfacing the tennis court and replacing the fencing at Smallwood Elementary School. The district plans to spend $943,438 for similar projects at Windemere Boulevard Elementary School.

A public hearing on the proposal has been set for 6:30 p.m. Dec. 6 in the Board of Education conference room at its district offices, 55 Kings Highway, Amherst.

The district is dedicating $1.3 million in reserve funds toward the cost of the entire $29.6 million project and will seek a five-year bond anticipation note, followed by a 13-year bond. The maximum local share of the project will $256,610 beginning in the 2024-2025 school year. The estimated cost for a homeowner for a property assessed at $100,000 will be $17 a year, according to school officials.

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