Onteora school budget passes easily; Phoenicia elementary wood boiler approved

By Jay Braman Jr.
Voters in the Onteora School District easily ushered in a nearly $52-million spending plan for the 2014-15 school year, elected two newcomers and one incumbent to the school board and approved a plan to install a wood-fired heat system for the Phoenicia School.
On Tuesday, May 20, 678 residents of the district voted in favor of the $51.8 million spending plan and 260 opposed. The plan brings a tax increase of about one half of one percent.
The elected school board candidates were top vote getter Gideon Moor with 657 votes, followed by incumbent Ann McGillicuddy with 622 and write-in Tanya Davis, who garnered 345 voted.
Those results followed a write in campaign by Moor and former trustee Rick Wolff, who got 235 votes.
The proposition to allow the district to spend up to $7 million to renovate, rehabilitate and reconstruct the middle and high school building, Phoenicia Elementary School and the district bus garage was adopted, 629-252.
Now the Phoenicia School will be heating with wood next year.
No, there won’t be a big Vermont Castings set up in the gym or any such thing, but rather a hi-tech biomass system that is fueled by wood pellets and school officials say it will make for a more environmentally friendly school.
“Our buildings are old,” said district Superintendent Phyllis McGill before Tuesdays voting. “Just like old houses, our buildings need to be periodically upgraded to improve efficiency, prevent system failure, avoid costly emergency repairs, and preserve the buildings’ structural/system integrity.”
This and other projects, McGill said, will not increase school taxes because 95 percent of the project will be eligible for state aid at the district’s aid ratio of 31 percent. According to the superintendent, once the $5 million from the voter-approved Capital Reserve fund is applied, along with $2 million from unappropriated fund balance, the project can be fully funded without needing to borrow money and incur interest costs.
The wood burning heat system is actually a small part of the overall capitol plan.
Approximately 88 percent of the work is planned for the Onteora Middle School/High School (MS/HS) campus and includes:
Converting the 60-year-old steam heating system to an efficient hot water system. Modern boilers and new classroom unit ventilators would be installed, replacing current models that are up to 50 years old.
Installing modern drop-in ceilings that are asbestos-free and that can support the addition of technology wiring and other infrastructure essential for today’s modern classrooms.
Renovating 50- to 60-year-old bathrooms by replacing broken and missing tiles and damaged ceilings, and installing energy-efficient plumbing fixtures and associated piping.
Removing antiquated steam and condensate piping.
Replacing deteriorated interior doors, some of which are 60 years old and original to the building.
Reconstructing plumbing drainage in its entirety, replacing aged, leaking pipes.
Replacing worn and deteriorated asphalt paving in parking areas, drives, curbs, and walkways.