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Baldwin School District counts down to bond vote

Mapping out the cost of Innovation 2020

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Baldwin School District officials recently mapped out the financial forecast of Innovation 2020, a multi-year capital improvement plan that, if approved by residents, would be funded by a $158 million bond, the regular budget, grants and state funding.

The bond is to be voted on by the public on March 18, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., at the high school, at 841 Ethel T. Kloberg Drive.

The district-wide capital project incorporates renovation ideas that stemmed from a state-mandated Building Conditions Survey as well as Community Input Night in 2016, when more than 100 local residents shared their thoughts on what they would like to see next to improve school facilities.

“We need to make the buildings fit what’s happening inside the classroom,” Superintendent Dr. Shari Camhi said at a Jan. 8 Board of Education meeting at Plaza Elementary School. “We are meeting the challenge of contemporary learning. That’s what Innovation 2020 is all about. It is about our kids. It’s about making sure that the learning opportunities that they engage in [are] relevant and meaningful, and [they are] contemporary for where we are now, and not when I went to school.”

School officials worked with representatives of H2M Architects and Engineers and other consultants to review the assessed values of all the homes in Baldwin and determine that homeowners would pay an average of $27.81 per month, or roughly $334 per year, for the bond.

Funding for the project would come from other sources as well, one of which would be the Smart Schools Bond Initiative, a $2 billion bond that New York voters approved in 2014 to improve educational technology and security infrastructure in school districts across the state. The Baldwin district was allocated $2.6 million and is awaiting approval of the funds, but it plans to use them to undertake wiring infrastructure work and security enhancements.

Another funding source would be a capital reserve fund, which would cover roofing projects, new windows and door replacements. The school budget would also supplement the costs. General maintenance and an elevator for Plaza would be budgeted there.

Legislative grants would also provide funding, Camhi said, which would cover the installation of new smart lockers and a sign for the high school on Grand Avenue.

“We are the only school system in the entire country that has this pilot,” Camhi said of the smart lockers, which are automated lockers that open with the swipe of a student ID badge. In the event of a lockdown, school officials would be able to prevent anyone from going into the lockers from the back end.

“All of the projects are developed to maximize state aid and minimize the impact on the tax levy,” Camhi said, adding that the construction work would be spread out in a way so that each resident’s monthly cost would remain roughly the same over the majority of the life of the bond.

“The community told us very decisively the kind of physical improvements they wanted to see in their buildings,” Camhi said, adding that the feedback received on an online platform called ThoughtExchange in the fall confirmed what the community requested in 2016 at Community Input Night. More than the top 40 “thoughts” reflected a desire for air conditioning in the schools.

“The community is asking us for air conditioning, updated bathrooms, updated athletics facilities, a modernized performing arts center, kitchens in the elementary schools, an updated library, a media center at the high school and enhanced learning opportunity spaces for students,” Camhi said.

School officials are now presenting the plans to various groups around the community, including PTAs and civic organizations, and encouraged attendees to talk with their neighbors and friends to encourage them to attend a presentation.

The district will also host two community information sessions at 7:30 p.m. in the district office’s “Professional Learning Lab,” at 960 Hastings St., on Jan. 21 and March 3.

“If you say to us, ‘Maybe we should make a little change or shift things here or there,’ that’s what will happen,” said Jason Smith from H2M Architects and Engineers, of Baldwin. “And you’ll have that opportunity to see that before it actually gets submitted to [the State Education Department] to get approved … We’ll have that back-and-forth dialogue so you will have that opportunity.”

Tricia Wilder, a parent and teacher in the district, asked about the timeline for the project. “Five to seven years?”

Camhi said district officials hope to be able to start and end the work between five and seven years, but that it would depend on the bidding process, state approval, weather and other factors.

“Part of that, too, is making sure that the work is done in such a way to minimize the disruption in the building,” she said. Work would start after the school day ended, and old facilities would not be demolished until the new ones were built.

Sara Jamison, a district parent, inquired about whether the woodshop course would still be offered or moved to a different location. Camhi said most of the technology spaces would be moved to a new space.

Ida Zambrano, co-president of Baldwin Friends of Music and Arts, an advocacy group for fine and performing arts, asked about what would happen with the fine and performing arts center and student practice rooms.

“The new fine and performing arts center would be built before we would do anything with the old space,” Camhi responded. The plans include state-of-the-art practice rooms for students, and the district might be able to rent out the auditorium to outside groups and organizations.

The new theater would allow students to sit in the auditorium after they performed to hear their classmates’ performances, which they are currently unable to do owing to a lack of seating. The existing center seats about 625 people, including the rarely used balcony, and the new one would seat about 1,500.