Unatego proposes $27.6M capital project 

Unatego Central School District taxpayers will be asked next month to approve a proposed $27.6 million capital project with zero impact on local tax levy.

State building aid will cover 87.5% of the costs, and the remaining cost of the project will be funded by a $1.3 million capital reserve account and $600,000 in EXCEL funds leftover from a previous project, according to district Superintendent Dave Richards.

“Our students deserve to learn in a top-notch educational facility,” Richards wrote in an informational brochure mailed to district taxpayers this week. “This project focuses on providing a comfortable, safe and healthy learning environment which enhances all areas of a student’s educational experience.”

The bulk of the work will be done on the secondary school campus and will include asbestos abatement; heating, cooling and ventilation upgrades, and new lighting, furniture, equipment and refinished floors in the classrooms and auditorium, which were built in 1967.

New lockers, showers, sinks and toilets will be installed in the locker rooms, which will also receive floor-to-ceiling upgrades and a new heating, cooling and ventilation system. The boiler room, also original in 1967, will be upgraded with new boilers to replace the fuel oil energy source and improve energy efficiency while also allowing for additional maintenance and storage space.

Lead water pipes will be replaced at the elementary school and the septic system will be brought in compliance with state Department of Environmental Conservation standards, Richards said. The clocks and communication system will also be upgraded.

The school baseball and softball fields will be improved with a new drainage system, artificial turf infields and natural grass outfields and fencing for the backstops and dugouts, Richards said. The track along the perimeter of the football field will also be refurbished.

Renovations at the district bus garage will include the replacement of the bus lift, original in 1951, and the addition of an accessible bathroom.

Richards said the proposed project will replace the March 2019 proposal, an estimated $45million  to $50 million project that was “sent back to the drawing board” in hopes of reducing the local share.

The initial proposal, which never made it to a referendum, focused on consolidating the elementary and secondary school campuses, Richards said, in line with recommendations from a facility study to close the Otego Elementary School in 2017.

Long-terms plans still include building consolidation, Richards said, but the prospect was put off in light of spacing and capacity restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In March, the Centers for Disease Control updated its COVID guidelines for schools, reducing the minimum social distance from 6 feet to 3 feet in a fully masked classroom. Additional state guidelines prevent schools from making the adjustment if the region is declared a “red zone,” where transmission rates are very high, Richards said.

Otsego County reported a 1.5% seven-day rolling average for confirmed COVID-19 cases as of April 19.

Adequate staff and physical space allowed for Unatego elementary students to return to full-time in-person instruction at the end of March, Richards said, while middle and high school students remain on a two-day in-person, two-day remote learning schedule.

The proposed capital project will appear on the ballot alongside the proposed 2021-22 school budget and the contest for three vacant seats on the school board.

Polls will be open from noon to 9 p.m. Tuesday, May 18, at the Unatego District Offices.

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at seames@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.

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