MAHOPAC, N.Y. -  School administrators and their consultants are moving closer to laying out the scope of a districtwide tax-neutral capital project that will cost approximately $52.3 million.

The district is looking to undertake some capital projects due to a quirk in a state formula that could impact the district’s tax rate if it doesn’t maintain its debt service. The district saw $2.8 million in debt come off its books in 2018 and more will come off in the next few years, so school officials are looking for projects to replace that debt.

Harvey Sotland, the district’s assistant superintendent for business affairs, said that a complex formula used by the state’s Department of Education makes that possible.

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“We identify what we can levy onto the local taxpayer, which is based on a formula from the state Department of Education. In that formula, there is a variable that speaks toward debt service. It impacts how much the tax levy (the total amount the district collects in taxes) can be,” he told Mahopac News in an interview last summer. “The tax cap is not a true 2 percent cap; it’s based on this formula. One of those variables [in the formula] is the debt service you carry. If you have a huge drop-off in debt service, like we are having [in 2019], it’s going to materially impact the tax cap where you could actually have a situation where you don’t have the ability to increase the tax levy over the previous year. That’s not a good thing.”

Sotland said it’s important to maintain a level debt service each year with no dramatic ups or downs.

The district had a building-conditions study done in 2015 and has been using that as a planning tool as it picks the projects it would like to take on.

At the school board’s Dec. 20, Sotland and Garrett Hamlin, director of architecture for Tetra Tech Architects & Engineers, the district’s architectural firm, laid out a building-by-building breakdown of the work to be done and its estimated cost. He said the project is on track to become a referendum on the ballot during May’s budget and school board votes.

“It’s on track; it’s on schedule and that’s a good sign,” Sotland said at the Dec. 20 meeting. “It is a big project and wouldn’t take much to get it derailed but we’ve continued to stay on schedule.”

Sotland said the school board’s Buildings and Ground Committee has been meeting continually throughout the fall/winter and is in the process of further boiling down and prioritizing a “large list of needs for the district [and get it] down to what we can afford so that this list of projects is tax neutral.”

Sotland said a recent online public survey on the project indicated there is strong community support.

“There was a public survey put out with respect to the capital project and the response was extremely favorable in both the number of responses that we got, as well as the feedback we got [on the project], which was favorable,” he said.

The schedule is to have the final project and related costs to the board this month, so it can be reviewed and then approved at the February meeting. The public would then vote on it in May. If passed by the voters, the project would enter the design phase throughout the remainder of 2019 and then the state Education Department would review it sometime during the first half of 2020. Construction should begin in March 2021 and continue throughout 2022 and 2023.

“As we develop the scope of this project, we are looking at two components—first, a financial component, making sure it stays tax-neutral,” Sotland said. “Second, develop a scope that meets the needs of the district across many different areas—academics, athletics, each of the buildings—making sure everyone gets something meaningful to their program along the way.”

Currently, the scope of development calls for the high school to receive $13. 3 million in upgrades; the middle school gets $8.1 million; Austin Road, $1.4 million; Fulmar Road, $3.4 million; Lakeview, $2 million; and Mahopac Falls, $3.5 million, for a total of $31.7 million. Design and construction contingencies have been budgeted at $6.3 million; potential cost-escalation is budgeted at $3.8 million; and incidental expenses (soft costs) are $1`0.5 million, for the total projected cost of $52.3 million, though Sotland and Hamill said that cost is subject to change as the process moves forward.

“The projects are around three main components: Programmatic enhancement, security/safety and infrastructure,” said Hamlin.

Some examples of the upgrades the buildings would see include:

Mahopac High school

Program: science lab upgrades, music room upgrades, STEAM lab, library/media center, synthetic turf practice, field locker room upgrades, stadium lighting

Security: security vestibule, egress and fire alarm; PA system

Infrastructure: Roofing, HVAC, clocks, electrical panels

Middle school

Program: Library/media center, STEAM lab; planetarium; cafeteria seating area

Security: main entrance traffic; egress/fire alarm; PA system

Infrastructure: Roofing, HVAC, clocks, electrical panels

Elementary schools

Library/media centers, playground improvements; security vestibule, roofing, clocks and electrical panels

Fulmar will get an elevator; Lakeview will get upgraded nurse’s office and student services office

“We want to make sure there is parity among the elementary schools,” Hamlin said. “All are getting library/media center upgrades to bring those into the 21st century in terms of technology and spatial configuration.”

The Palumbo Group has been hired by the school board to be the construction manager for the project.