by Autumn Evans
Residents of the Starpoint Central School District will soon vote on $15.4 million worth of improvements to the district under its Student Health, Safety and Technology Capital Project.
The project includes renovations and construction across the high school and middle school, as well as improvements to athletic facilities.
"All of us pay taxes, the tax money goes to New York state; this is one way that tax money comes back to your community," said Starpoint Superintendent C. Douglas Whelan. "Education is really important, so it's important to keep these facilities up to date and functioning.
"This is a way your money can come back here ... if this money isn't spent here, it's going to be spent somewhere else, on a bridge or an athletic field somewhere else in some other school."
The largest updates inside the school are to the middle school cafeterias and high school weight rooms. The middle school currently has two separate cafeterias, only one of which has a kitchen. Under the new project, the outer walls of one of the cafeterias would be extended into an area that is now a parking lot. The remaining cafeteria would become a fitness room.
The project also accounts for the addition of a weight room for high school athletes to replace the one currently located in a room off the middle school gym, which Whelan referred to as a "storage closet."
Currently, the football team monopolizes the weight room, he said. The new structure would provide a room where athletes from different teams, and both girls and boys, could comfortably share the space.
Technology updates include the standard replacing of outdated equipment, but also installing new security doors between the different schools. The doors would allow personnel to lock down the different schools in case someone entered one of them with the intent of hurting students.
"I worry all the time," Whelan said. "Anybody can come into the school. They say they're here to pick up a transcript, then say they're here to see the superintendent - how do we know? That's what these security doors are for."
Outside the buildings, the project calls for the installation of an all-purpose artificial turf field at Tudor Stadium. Whelan said the current field's surface is 12 years old and needs to be replaced anyway, so the school wants to use the more long-lasting artificial material.
He noted he was aware of the recently released videos from NBC suggesting a possible tie between crumb rubber fields and athletes getting cancer, and said the article was being taken into consideration. Alternative green products are available, though they cost between $50,000 to $100,000 more to use. If Starpoint chose the green products, they would be one of the first schools to do so.
One resident at a school board meeting questioned whether the artificial turf was necessary, or just "fluff."
"It all depends on your perspective," Whelan said. "It may be fluff to someone who's not in sports, but it's absolutely essential to 750 kids who use these facilities."
The project also calls for lights on the football field, which would allow the team to play night games.
"The board is thinking this will bring a sense of community on Friday nights," Whelan said, adding that they'll know whether the public agrees by the outcome of the vote. "Everyone seems to congregate here, and the school generally is the focus of any community."
The state aid ratio for the project is 78.6 percent. After factoring in funds from a recently approved $1.6 million state bond project to be used for technology, Whelan estimated the project would cost about $2 per month per household. The community would be giving approval for the district to borrow $15.4 million in funds, but Whelan said they would not use any more than what was needed.
"We'll do what we need; we've always just done what we've needed to do," he said. "This community is very supportive and we wouldn't do that to them."
Whelan added that the project was too expensive to be included in the school's yearly budget, but some of the aging structures would need to be addressed either way.
"At some point, (the updates) have to be done and they can't be put in the budget, so we'll have to approach the community at a future date," he said.
The school board approved the project in September. The next step is for the public to approve or reject it. If it is approved, specific plans will be drawn up and submitted to the state Department of Education for approval. Construction would not begin until March 2016.
The vote will take place from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 16, in the high school gymnasium. The full plans are available at www.starpointcsd.org.