Tupper Lake school district asks voters to approve $20.5M in building upgrades

Bentley Jewell grins as he runs into L.P. Quinn Elementary School in Tupper Lake on the first day of school. On Oct. 17 local voters will consider a $20.5 million capital improvement project, which would, among many other things, improve the overhand pictured here. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Marbone)

TUPPER LAKE — The Tupper Lake Central School District is asking voters to weigh in on a proposed $20.5 million capital improvement plan to make upgrades to all major school buildings.

These building improvements include major updates to the entrances to both schools for better security; new roofs for some buildings; replacing old windows, doors and utilities; safety improvements for the bus garage; new sidewalks; and improvements to the school-owned Civic Center ice rink and the elementary school fields.

The vote on Oct. 17 will be held at the middle-high school library from noon to 8 p.m.

The state would pay for almost three-quarters of the project, picking up about $15.2 million of the bill, which leaves Tupper Lake taxpayers to foot the $5.3 million difference over 17 years.

This is a “middle-of-the-road” building project, price-wise, for the district, TLCSD Superintendent Russ Bartlett said, looking back at the past 30 years.

“Just about everything on this list came from a health and safety checkdown on the building conditions survey,” Bartlett said. “This is not getting flashy new extravagant things.”

Bartlett said this project was triggered by a building condition survey the district does every five years, which identified a number of health and safety issues, as well as a number of building and infrastructure problems.

He said most of the things on this list are “to-do list” leftovers from previous capital projects, which didn’t get funded before but need to get done now for health and safety reasons. L.P. Quinn Elementary School is more than 50 years old now, and the middle-high school is more than 90 years old.

Spending money on these improvements now is more cost-effective than having to address the issues they pose when they become unmanageable later, he said.

“Some of them are things that if we put them off much longer, the costs of fixing the catastrophic failure becomes insane,” Bartlett said. “It’s so much easier to build during a planned project than it is to fix an emergency problem.”

Planning gives them time to go out to bid and find competitive pricing, instead of rushing to find contractors.

Two years ago, the district’s annual budget came within eight votes of not passing. This year the budget vote rebounded and the budget passed 314-110. That vote from two years ago indicated that taxpayers didn’t want to pay more for school services.

But Bartlett said these capital project improvements are upgrades necessary to send children to school in the safest possible way. And he said district has pared down a lot from its original list to just the necessities. He is “cautiously confident” in the project getting approval.

If the project is approved by voters — it requires a a 50% simple majority vote to pass — Bartlett estimates work could start in the spring and get into full swing in the summer, with a projected completion sometime in 2026.

A video the district produced explaining the project can be viewed at tinyurl.com/yrc8db57.

There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, Bartlett said, especially in the entrance to the middle-high school. The district plans to reconfigure entrances to both schools to meet standard practices for school security where people get buzzed in to a main office before entering the rest of the building.

Cost to taxpayer

The state will pay 74.8% of the project costs through the state Education Department. Taxpayers would be paying off their portion until 2041.

Using an average home value of $200,000, Franklin-Essex-Hamilton BOCES Assistant Superintendent for District Finance and Operations Dan Bower estimates that the project would cost a senior citizen owning a home of that value an extra $100 annually for 17 years, an additional $8.33 a month.

For non-senior citizens who qualify for STAR, a reduction in school taxes, the impact would be an extra $131 annually, an additional $10.92 a month.

Non-senior citizens who do not qualify for STAR would pay an extra $154 annually, an additional $12.83 per month.

Someone who owns a home of that value that isn’t their primary residence, so they don’t qualify for Star, would pay an estimated additional $154 annually, an additional $12.83 per month.

Bower said the last time the district got a capital project approved by voters in 2014 the project cost $8.4 million.

The upgrades

L.P. Quinn Elementary School, where the district offices are also housed, was built in the early 1970s.

“It’s showing its age,” Bartlett said.

Bartlett said the secure entrance at L.P. Quinn will be in the same location, and the district will reconfigure some of the office space. When people enter the building they’ll first talk to someone at a transaction window to get buzzed in in order to access the rest of the building.

TLCSD Supervisor of Buildings and Grounds Pierre St. Pierre said the building’s windows from the 1972 original construction are leaking heat and have problems with locking and sliding.

On hot days when the sun is shining directly on the exterior doors, St. Pierre said they swell and bind, making it more difficult to exit the building.

St. Pierre said there are masonry issues on the exterior canopies, which students walk under each day o enter the school — mortar joints are cracking and letting in snow, which rusts the structural steel.

He said the entire elementary school roof needs to be replaced because of leaks and insulation issues.

“We’ve got loose parts of the roof that could blow off during a windstorm,” St. Pierre added.

The building would also get a new boiler chimney and upgraded HVAC unit vents.

The Rotary Track and Field Complex at L.P. Quinn was built as a volunteer project in 1999 and has outlived its expected lifetime, Bartlett said. The plan is to move the press box and the bleachers that are on the home side of the field to the visitor side of the field, which currently has a wooden set of bleachers. An elevated set of bleachers with an integrated press box would be built on the home side.

The middle-high school building was built in 1932. The district is also planning to replace the windows here, as well as all the exterior doors of the building which are decaying and rusted at the bottom.

The sidewalks and asphalt in front of the school have a lot of heaving, holes and shifting areas due to freezing and thawing cycles. They plan to replace deteriorating stairs and sidewalks that aren’t compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The plans also call for replacing the roof of the Baker Wing at the middle-high school and renovating the bathrooms there to meet ADA compliance.

School buses are parked in the back parking lot at the high school.

“Over the years from the buses being parked there they’re literally sinking into the ground,” St. Pierre said in the video. “At the back tires there’s a lot of groundwater there and with the freeze and thaw cycles, literally, it’s deteriorating at the point where the buses get stuck.”

St. Pierre said the switchboard panel in the basement at the high school that provides power for all the school is rotting at the bottom from rust.

“We have no choice but to replace the entire switch board,” St. Pierre said in the video. “That needs to get done because it’s a health and safety issue. Without heat here in the North Country you are not going to be able to have school.”

The emergency generator at the high school is also scheduled to be replaced. St. Pierre said while they do this they hope to redirect generator exhaust away from the school. When the wind blows a certain way while they use the generator now, the fumes can go into the open windows at the school or into vent intakes.

Bartlett said the secure entrance at the middle-high school means changing where the school entrances are and “significantly” reconfiguring the middle-high school office suite.

“The staircase that’s right outside of the middle-high school office will now become the entrance and that’ll be the most visible part of this this project at the middle-high school,” he said.

For security, people then walk into a secure area before they will be allowed into the building. He also said this will allow for a slightly bigger conference room.

“People who’ve been squished in the conference room with 10 or 12 people for meetings in July will understand how important that is,” Bartlett said.

St. Pierre said the ice making system at the Civic Center’s skating rink is almost 25 years old and should be upgraded to the new standards. It also needs a new dehumidification system and brine pumps.

Air quality standards have increased, he said, and the district needs a bus exhaust ventilation system in the bus garage to provide safety for the people who work in there.

They plan to install a water separator in the wash bay trench area, to collect oils and anti-freeze before they go into the storm drain.

“Also we’re going to remove that 6,000 gallon diesel fuel tank,” he added.

The vote on Oct. 17 will be held at the middle-high school library from noon to 8 p.m.


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