Springs Voters Say ‘Yes’

School will get a $22.96 million expansion
Voters lined up on Tuesday to cast their ballots on a $16.9 million bond that will allow the Springs School to undertake a major expansion and renovation project. Durell Godfrey

Residents in the Springs School District voted 484 to 323 Tuesday to approve the $16.9 million bond necessary for the school’s fiercely debated expansion. The district has also been cleared to apply $6 million from an existing capital reserve fund to help offset the total cost of construction, which is not to exceed $22.96 million.

“I was extremely thrilled to see that over 800 residents came out to vote,” said Debra Winter, the school’s superintendent. It was double the number who had cast ballots in the last budget vote in May 2017. “Special thanks to our board for their vision and persistence, to the community members who asked questions, visited our school, then supported us. . . . To those who wrote to the editor, thank you! To my colleagues for their diligence in coming out on weekends and staying late to make presentations, thank you,” she wrote in an email yesterday. 

The community’s endorsement of the project has finally decided the fate of the cramped school building, originally intended for 350 students but serving 734 today. Talks of an expansion first surfaced in 1999 as enrollment increased but eventually took root in 2014 when the school board formed a facilities committee composed of various school and community stakeholders, and upon whose recommendation it was determined that additional space was needed. 

Three years later, the final set of plans prepared by B.B.S Architects and Engineering, show an expanded Springs School with approximately 24,000 square feet of additional space that allows for seven new classrooms, including a technology and science lab, a middle school regulation-size gymnasium with locker rooms, renovation of the art and music rooms, and renovation of 17 small instructional spaces to support New York State Education Department compliance standards, a new septic system, parking and traffic improvements, and junior high regulation-size soccer and baseball fields.

Ms. Winter outlined the district’s next steps. “My job now is to ensure we get the detailed plans to the New York State facilities planning department and we will pay to have them expedited. As soon as they are approved we can go out to bid. Once the bids are received and contractors are selected and approved by the board, work can begin.”

The school’s first priority, she said, will be to replace the roof and install a new nitrogen-reducing septic system, funding for which was denied because of a technicality, but which the superintendent is optimistic will come through.

As was expected, the margin of victory in Tuesday’s vote was not particularly large. Many residents have been critical  of  the school board’s decisions regarding the expansion. The group has called the project “grandiose” and even labeled it “the Taj Mahal,” and signs urging people to vote no were posted around the district in the lead-up to Tuesday’s vote. During the last two weeks a string of emails to residents urged them to vote the bond down, citing what they believe was the board’s lack of due diligence in exploring more cost-effective solutions.

With the bond green-lighted, the school estimates that construction will begin in July 2019, following the approval of required permits, with work projected to be completed in 2021.

“Personally, after seven months in Springs, I can say this addition is so needed. I have never seen so many individuals sharing space and teaching in closets,” said Ms. Winter.

Barbara Dayton, the president of the school board, also expressed her joy that the referendum was approved, saying it is a victory for improved learning conditions. 

“I was impressed by the large turnout for the vote and very grateful that the majority of voters understood the issues facing our children and voted in favor of the proposed expansion,” she said, and added, “This is a win for Springs kids.”