by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — Despite growing operating fund concerns, Lewiston-Porter leaders are still planning a $26 million capital project.
Due to the complexities of New York state's budget, though, the project, which would address many concerns at the district's high school, would have absolutely no effect on the district's year-to-year spending.
It's two completely separate piles of money, Superintendent Christopher Roser said.
"It's a totally separate pot of money from education," Roser said. "New York state sits over there with however many millions of dollars dedicated to capital improvement. It doesn't come over here to educational programming. And if we don't get our slice of it, quite frankly some other school will."
Construction would likely take place beginning June 2014 and be completed January 2016, according to architect Scott Jones of Gordon W. Jones Associates, the district's architect.
But nothing will begin until the voters in the district approve the project, which the district's school board is expected to schedule during the district's budget vote May 21. A special meeting of the board has been called for 5 p.m. tonight in the district's high school to finalize the project's referendum, as well as confirm the project's negative declaration in its environmental quality review.
The project will affect entryway into all four of the district's buildings as administrators keyed into ease of access following recent school shootings like the one in Newtown, Conn. this past December.
Roser said much of the project focuses on the high school, which was left out of the district's previous capital project due to a lack of money. It introduces a big entryway near the school's auditorium, which will offer a purpose for a second-floor hallway which currently is a dead-end.
But the highlight of the proposal is the construction of a new swimming pool for the high school, which will be built on the first floor. The goal, Jones said, is to create a swimming facility students can use for a long time.
"We not only wanted a pool for the 21st Century, we wanted one that will last and function for a long time," Jones said last week during the district's school board meeting. "The tricky part is maximizing the building aid the project will receive. The state won't just pay to have a pool built, so we'll need to get as much aid as possible."
Aid for the district's project is believed to be 72 percent of all costs, assuming it's approved by voters and the state education department. The remaining 28 percent will be covered by the district's share of the relicensing agreement with the New York Power Authority and the Niagara River Greenway Commission.
The funding won't be available until the 2015-16 school year, though, so the project will be operating on a drawn-out timetable. But because of bidding and contractor work, the extended timetable may be what the district needs. It's expected the project would go out to bid in February 2014 and award contracts the next month.
That's when all of the contractors are looking for work, Jones said.
"That's right in the heat of winter," he said. "Everyone's hungry then. That's when we find that we get the best bids, so that's our target."
Tonight's school board meeting will adjourn into a budget work session which will feature requests by both the middle and high school principals as the district attempts to deal with a multimillion-dollar spending and revenue gap heading into next year. The meeting is open to the public to attend.