SKANEATELES | Board of Education member sat face-to-face poring over a list of 56 capital improvement items to prioritize which are most likely to receive public support.

If passed, the $22.9 million project would break ground next summer, and continue over the next four years.

School Board President Evan Dreyfuss sought board members' thoughts on identifying the critical elements in the proposal to improve, renovate and replace areas of the middle and high school buildings, built in 1963 and 1954 respectively.

Consensus was met in most of the seven categories. However, questions remain regarding the extent of improvements to the 10,260-square-foot middle school gymnasium.

"Whatever is done is going to need to support generations moving forward for 50 or so years," interim Superintendent Judith Pastel said.

The project proposes spending $5.5 million to demolish and reconstruct the gym, locker rooms, restrooms and add a 94-foot basketball court. The soil under the gym has settled causing issues where the floor meets the wall, architect Michael Harris said, and would require analysis on how best to stabilize the future structure.

"The locker rooms are atrocious," member Michael Card said. "I'm struggling with tearing down a structure."

A more financially modest plan is to rehabilitate the gym at an expense of $2.3 million. This option does not expand the size of the basketball court or current seating, which the board agreed posed safety hazards. Players run the risk of colliding into patrons who may bring their own chairs to sporting events, Pastel said.

"(The seating) is right on the court," Kathryn Carlson said.

The board also contemplated renovation of the high school's wellness center and team locker room, constructed 13 years ago. Board members called into question the line between necessity and luxury, when talking about the combined $785,048 cost of expanding the team locker room and renovating the wellness center, a room Card referred to as "beautiful."

"I'd have to be really convinced that we need it," member Sue Greenfield Murphy said.

Assistant Superintendent of Business and Finance Dale Bates said there are options for those areas.

"The athletic department brought two proposals to us with the option that there are some people in the community interested in funding this," he said.

The board removed some items from the list, including $235,514 for air conditioning equipment to accommodate students taking exams in the high school gym. They also cut $370,000 by scaling back school signage and grandstand refurbishment.

Also at the meeting, Pastel and Carlson inquired about obtaining Homeland Security grant to fund a back-up generator. Bates said a generator, estimated at $235,514,  could be paid for by a federal grant along with building aid money from the state. In a power outage, a generator would keep devices such as intercoms, fire and smoke alarms, cafeteria freezers and other emergency systems operable. In the event of a townwide catastrophe, the high school serves as an emergency site.

"I don't see how we can be a site if we don't have a generator," Pastel said.

As for paying for the proposed project, irrespective of annual budget approvals, taxpayers would notice their tax bills increase beginning in the 2017-2018 school year. For the project alone, a home valued at $350,000 would see an increase of $169.60, which would increase by $30 for the next two years and then decrease over the next 16 years.

Board member Tom Lambdin suggested splitting the project into two referendums. The first covering high-priority improvements such as roof replacement, asbestos abatement and improvements to safety. The second referendum would consider the middle school gym, overall site improvements and refurbishment of the high school auditorium.

"I see value in all these things, but perhaps they should be separate votes," Lambdin said.

Carrie Chantler may be reached at 685-5701 or carrie.chantler@lee.net

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