In the past week, two local school districts have proposed new building projects.
If you are not a resident of either district — Salem or Cambridge — you probably didn’t even read the stories.
It’s none of your business, right?
Salem is proposing a $20 million infrastructure project on its 80-year-old school that is all meat and potatoes. It is work that needs to be done.
Cambridge, after just completing an $11 million project last year, is going back for $10 million more to replace roofs and boilers. It’s all meat and potatoes, too.
Somewhere in the middle of the newspaper articles is a paragraph that explains that the state will pick up 80 percent of the total cost.
That got us thinking.
When you consider all the projects in all those communities across the state, it starts to add up.
It turns out the state, through the New York State Building Act, provides $3 billion a year for local school construction and repairs. There’s another $2 billion of general obligation bonds to finance “improved educational technology and infrastructure” as well.
Now, we’re talking real money.
So let’s connect the dots.
We started reviewing some past capital projects in our backyard off statistics compiled by the state Education Department:
Argyle has spent $1.4 million since 2015.
Cambridge has authorized $11.2 million in construction since 2012.
Corinth has spent $10 million since 2012.
Glens Falls has construction spending of $11.6 million since 2012 and voters just approved another $17.55 million last year.
Granville has spent $2.6 million since 2013.
Greenwich has spent $9.6 million since 2013.
Lake George has spent $3.1 million since 2015.
Hadley-Luzerne has spent $1.2 million since 2013, and voters approved another $8.9 million in 2016.
Johnsburg has spent $1.9 million since 2014.
North Warren has spent $1.7 million on projects since 2014.
Queensbury has spent or authorized spending totalling $48 million since 2013.
Schuylerville has spent $2.9 million since 2007.
South Glens Falls has spent $53 million since 2013.
Warrensburg has spent $7 million since 2012.
The rough estimate is some $200 million in local school construction costs over the past six years.
That’s all our money.
So every time a local school district puts forward a new building project, maybe we all should pay attention.
We wondered how much consideration is being given to the future of our communities 10 and 20 years from now, after the baby boomers are retired.
The Empire Center tells us that New York is bleeding residents. More than a million have left the state since 2010. While it’s been modest in Warren (down 1,133 since 2010) and Washington (down 1,442), reduction in student enrollment has been more dramatic.
According to the New York State Association of School Business Officials, 84.9 percent of rural schools have suffered enrollment decreases of at least 10 percent since 2010. If those trends continue, some local school districts could see enrollment shrink by a quarter or a third over the life of their refurbished or new buildings.
Every time a new building project is approved, taxpayers are making a commitment 20 years into the future. The million-dollar question is: Are these facilities and upgrades going to be too large, and will those communities be able to afford them?
So while Cambridge and Salem make legitimate cases for their building projects now, we’re left wondering if all schools are being short-sighted.
Consider this option.
What if Salem took that $20 million in construction costs and combined it with the $11 million Cambridge wants to spend and built a brand-new school for $31 million halfway between the two communities? They are just 11 miles apart.
There is also a bonus reward of an extra 30 percent in building aid for any project within 10 years of merger or consolidation. That’s another $9 million to play with.
There is also money available for grants to study mergers.
In recent months, residents have twice turned down a capital project for Bolton Central School.
We think you will see more of that in the coming years.
Obviously, it is too late for Salem and Cambridge to consider this idea now, but there are other school districts that might want to look further into the future before writing the next big check from us taxpayers.
Lake George may someday want to send its high school students to Queensbury.
Hudson Falls and Fort Edward is an obvious merger that is long overdue.
We understand why small rural communities love their schools. They are the center of their universes, but the economics of the future foretell a time when it will be a necessity to expand their orbits.