By Andy Simek
LIBERTY June 23, 2006 The public got a chance to review ideas for and give their reactions to a proposed new elementary school in Liberty.
The meeting, held in the Liberty High School auditorium, was moderated by Superintendent Larry Clarke, District Architect Ed McGraw and Michael Conte, a communications specialist and facilitator from BOCES.
The gathering was an outgrowth of the Facility Planning Committee, which has been discussing the matter for approximately two and a half years.
According to the committee, the current elementary school is host to a plethora of problems.
The committee found overcrowding due to both small classrooms and the overall size of the building itself as one of numerous concerns.
A lack of handicap accessibility also poses an issue, both physically and legally.
Lastly, the committee found that the maintenance fees for maintaining a building as old as the elementary school, which was built in 1912, is simply not cost-effective. The varying ages of the additions also pose problems with maintenance, said McGraw. Clarke pointed out that the single building has additions built in both the 60s and 70s, along with the modular classrooms added in the 90s. Ever-changing building codes, he said, have caused too much of a difference in materials and methods of construction.
The committee concluded that it would cost nearly the same amount to renovate the entire building as it would to build a brand new one.
If plans pass as they were presented, the 149,000-square-foot building would be built on the same North Main Street site as the old school at a cost of approximately $35 to $40 million, with a complete renovation costing about $30 million. State aid of up to 81 percent could be obtained for the building costs but isnt guaranteed.
Public reaction to the plan was mixed, but the majority were in favor of working with the existing buildings to accommodate the students.
The crowds biggest concern seemed to be a dwindling tax base of people who are actually using the facility. Many of the attendees were older individuals with no children in the public school system who felt it unfair that their already high taxes would be raised even further.
A district elementary schoolteacher who was at the meeting but did not identify herself said, Im really for education and I think we need a new elementary school, but I dont think the town is ready for this.
The people here who are opposed to this plan arent against education but are people who honestly cant afford higher taxes.
The solution that many of the audience members favored was to use the pre-existing buildings.
Andy Kavleski, a teacher at Liberty High School, noted that there is a lot of unused space in the middle and high schools. His suggestion was to shuffle the grades around all three schools and make minor additions if extra classrooms are necessary.
Several other attendees were opposed to the demolition of the old elementary school due solely to the belief that it serves as a historical site in Liberty and has too much sentimental value to the town.
Town of Liberty Councilman Maurice Gerry said, A lot of people have gone through that school. Its the heart and soul of this town.
Conte said that the next step for the committee is to go back into deliberation and take into consideration the concerns raised by the public.
A look at alternative solutions to a new school, he said, will be on top of the list, and the committee will compare all renovation costs. Another topic that will be under consideration is the feasibility of moving the grade levels from one school to another.
It is uncertain whether the next public forum will be held later in the summer or in the beginning of the fall.