By Jeanne Sager
LIBERTY March 11, 2005 St. Patricks Day will also be voting day for residents of Sullivan County.
Although Tuesday is the day set aside for village elections, residents of all eight county school districts will be heading to the ballot box Thursday, March 17, to decide whether Sullivan County BOCES should add a building to its Liberty campus.
The vote will be held between noon and 8 p.m. Thursday in all eight districts. Voting will be held in each of the districts normal polling places.
The $17.2 million project announced in January by BOCES officials will provide the educational center with 78,000 square feet of new space, plus some renovations to the Rubin Pollack Education Center.
The big reasons for the project?
BOCES is out of space, and the demand for its services is increasing.
Low- to moderate-needs kids are educated within their own school district, and thats the way it really should be, said Superintendent Dr. Martin Handler.
But other special education students those with higher needs ranging from autism to significant emotional disturbance all head to BOCES for state-mandated services.
Theres already a waiting list for special education programs in Liberty. And those numbers, Handler said, are increasing in Sullivan County.
The BOCES proposal will add new special education classes, move other classes around to use space most efficiently, and provide physical therapy and fitness rooms for occupational therapy.
The project also has its eye on increasing choices for the career and tech students who flock to BOCES in their high school years.
The facility is currently enjoying its highest vocational enrollment in its more than 50-year history.
But with that comes a demand for new classes and the space to hold them.
The proposed project would allow BOCES to open a new welding and precision machine shop and double the size of the career and tech kitchen to keep up with the demand for the culinary skills courses.
The proposal also includes a new gymnasium again to meet increased demand.
Since BOCES officials announced the project and Handler began visiting local boards of education meetings to pitch the project, theres been a suggestion bandied about that BOCES rent space from the Sullivan West Central School District rather than sinking money into a new structure.
But Handler said the proposal developed by a committee of BOCES board members, county businesspeople and local educators is really the way to go.
Were not insensitive to the needs of Sullivan West, Handler said. But weve looked at each option, and they just dont work.
The suggestion has been for BOCES to rent the unused space at the Narrowsburg and Delaware Valley campuses of Sullivan West after all, both buildings are already approved for instructional use.
But Handler said there arent enough hours in the day to make it work.
What its really about is transportation and time, he explained. The problem is, those kids, with very few exceptions, get on a school bus and first go to their own school.
Then they get on a bus to BOCES, he added.
At the Liberty facility, kids are then shifted to their classrooms. Some board a bus to go to other BOCES classrooms in Roscoe or Monticello but even thats tough to manage, Handler said, despite the fact that the buses are getting right on Route 17 in Liberty.
Now if were taking these kids from Liberty to Narrowsburg or Callicoon, youre talking another 40-minute bus ride in the best conditions, when theres no snow on the ground, he noted. Wed have to be picking them up at 5:30 in the morning.
Id love to help the Sullivan West district out by using some of that space, but where it is is a problem, Handler said.
As it is, until the project meets approval from the voters and work can begin, BOCES will be holding classes in the former White Sulphur Springs Elementary School owned by the Liberty School District just to meet its current demand for programs.
Thats only two miles from our campus, Handler said. But that is also only a temporary situation.
Unfortunately, that building needs a lot of work, and were not interested in putting out a lot of money to renovate an old building.
As it is, BOCES is asking residents to expend (depending on district) between $13 and $16 per $100,000 of assessed property value in taxes to support its new project, beginning in the 2006-07 school year.
Because of a unique state law that governs BOCES elections, Handler said no absentee ballots are being allowed. Folks need only be registered voters and residents of one of the eight county school districts to be eligible.
Also unique to this election will be paper ballots the Livingston Manor Central School District uses this method, and the BOCES vote has to be uniform in each district.
Handler said this will actually help in the rare instance that a voting booth is impounded after Tuesdays village elections.
If the project is approved, ground could break as early as this fall, with completion expected in time for the 2008-09 school year.
Asked why BOCES is working so quickly, Handler said theres pressure to solicit and award bids in order to come within the $17.2 million budget range.
We need to get this bid awarded before this casino business starts up, he said. Construction prices in Sullivan County are literally going up by the week.
Thats why were in such a cotton-pickin hurry.