BKW eyes $13-15 million project to repair and improve learning space
The BKW Board of Education has asked its architects and engineers to outline $13-$15 million in repairs and renovations that would preserve the district’s infrastructure and create modern learning spaces for our students.
“There is work that we have to do to keep our infrastructure from failing,” says Superintendent Tim Mundell. “As long as we are going to be taking things apart to do the infrastructure, why not put the spaces back together in a way that creates an educational setting for tomorrow’s standards?”
BKW has done its best to use limited resources to maintain the district’s facilities. However, daily wear and tear and the aging of school buildings and their mechanical systems have taken their toll beyond what can be remedied through routine maintenance and repair. This has impacted the learning and working environment and presents potential health and safety issues.
The district wants to ensure that its facilities will continue to serve the community’s children well into the future, in a fiscally responsible manner.
A blast from the past
“The fact that we have a steam heating system with a boiler from 1955 is mind boggling to me,” says BKW Board of Education President Matt Tedeschi.
That’s right, the boiler and steam heating system in the Elementary School were installed 62 years ago. It goes without saying that it’s not the most efficient or reliable way to heat your children’s classrooms. BKW is looking to upgrade the Elementary School’s heating and ventilation system as part of a capital project.
“The Elementary School is two-thirds the size of the High School, but it costs 25 percent more to heat,” Building Maintenance Supervisor Peter Shunney says, noting the Secondary School’s boilers were replaced in 2011.
Steam heat just doesn’t make sense for a school in this day and age, says Bob Abromaitis, of M/E Engineering.
“Schools aren’t using steam these days. Offices aren’t using steam. When you’re using a building 50-60 hours a week, like a school, you need the ability to regulate the temperature efficiently.”
Better spaces, brighter futures
Numerous studies have concluded that students in substandard school buildings perform at lower levels than students in newer, functional buildings.
Researchers have found that students in deteriorating school buildings score between 5 to 11 percentile points lower on standardized achievement tests than students in modern buildings, after controlling for income level.
Furthermore, research has found that specific building conditions that would be addressed in a BKW capital project –things like poor air quality, excessive or inconsistent temperatures, poor lighting, and high levels of noise – contribute to lower levels of student performance.
Tedeschi wants to make sure that we use this opportunity not just to maintain our buildings, but also to support our vision for BKW’s students.
“If we just put the classrooms back together the way they were when they were built in the 1940s and 50s, what are the kids getting out of that? What is the community getting out of that?” he asks.
Upgrading our schools doesn’t just affect the students, either. It also prevents turnover in quality teaching staff. Teachers are 5 percent more likely to stay in buildings with better conditions and resources, according to a 2005 study done by professors at Boston College and Stony Brook University.
A beacon in the Hilltowns
“We’d like the community to invest in a vision that establishes BKW as a beacon in the Hilltowns,” says Mundell. “A forward-looking school that establishes this area as a destination for families that are looking for a great community and world-class education for their children.”
According to the National Association of Realtors 2015 “Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers,” 25 percent of home buyers listed school quality and 20 percent listed proximity to schools as deciding factors in their home purchase.
BKW is surrounded by school districts with dedicated instructional space for science and technology. Facilities like the Mohonasen Center for Advanced Technology and programs like the Lab School at Bethlehem High School draw families with school-aged children to those districts.
“The effect of improving our schools extends far beyond the campus,” says Mundell. “When I came to BKW, I was asked what I would do to revitalize this area. The most effective thing I can do is to make BKW a competitive district, with a culture and facilities that are geared for the future. I truly believe that school improvement is community improvement.”
Many of the improvements the board is looking at are aimed at strengthening BKW’s partnership with the community. For example, the Board is looking to renovate the Elementary School cafeteria into a multi-purpose room so it can be better used for community meetings or adult education classes.
Reducing the impact on your wallet
Because it is funded largely by state building aid and bonds, a capital project enables a school district to invest in its facilities – to make repairs, renovations and updates necessary to address health, safety, learning and working environment issues – with significantly less financial pressure upon local taxpayers and school budgets. Specifically, without a capital project, BKW would miss the opportunity to have nearly 80 percent of aidable project costs covered by state building aid – a significant amount of money for the district and local taxpayers.
BKW can also alleviate the additional local tax impact of a capital improvement project by taking on new debt – through bond financing – as old debt is retired.
It should also be noted that any building project that the voters approve cannot, by law, go over budget. School districts cannot spend above the bond amount approved by voters during the capital improvement project public referendum. If costs begin to exceed those estimated once work begins, the scope of the project must be reduced accordingly.
Preparing students for their future, not our past
“We want to make BKW the best school it can be while being sensitive to what the community can afford to support financially,” says Superintendent Tim Mundell. “But we also need to ask ourselves ‘What kind of school district do we want to be?’ We can be mired in the past and put Band-Aids on all of these things that really need to be improved, or we can invest in the vision we have for BKW, its students, and the community. This district has an obligation prepare students for their future, not our past.”
The Board of Education plans to hold a referendum on the project in October. Between now and then, the board will refine the scope of the work, provide the community with as much information as it can, and listen to your feedback. We invite you to attend board meetings, reach out to them at BKWBOE@bkwschools.org with any questions or concerns, and please visit the school’s website frequently for updated information.