Pine Plains school renovation deserves support

Finding money to pay for goods and services is always a challenge for our school districts. Funding projects — no matter how essential — can be difficult at best.

In the Pine Plains Central School District, the Board of Education (BOE) is hoping that come Monday, Jan. 28, local voters will show their support for a special referendum to renovate the junior/senior high school auditorium.

Why should local taxpayers agree to the project? Well, for one thing, it’s sorely needed. The auditorium at Stissing Mountain Junior/Senior High School is in bad shape — it needs a complete renovation. It hasn’t been touched since it was originally built in 1969 — a long time to go without updates. So, too, is the gymnasium at the junior high in need of work. It needs a new floor. That was all included in a $2.9 million project voters approved in May of 2017.

So why is the referendum needed now? Because costs, as they tend to do, have risen. When it came time to budget for the project, the school district discovered it was at a shortage due to escalating expenses. Construction costs and materials — especially steel — have increased dramatically. The tariffs haven’t helped. To make the project more manageable, Superintendent of Schools Martin Handler and the BOE decided to accept bids for the auditorium work only, and put off the replacement of the gymnasium floor.

That makes sense, though it is unfortunate. Our young students need a safe and presentable gym that provides adequate and appropriate space for their athletics. We would have really liked to see that part of the project continue. 

But reality is what it is, and both Handler and the school board were smart in recognizing that even the best laid plans don’t always come to pass. Rather than dwell on what could have been, they regrouped.

Now, with a new goal in sight, they’re still struggling to get the project underway, as bids for the auditorium renovation exceeded the district’s budget for the work. 

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The school district’s capital reserve fund has $1.3 million available to cover the shortfall. The money is already there — the BOE just needs the OK to spend it. 

That’s where voters come into the picture. Approving the special referendum won’t impact taxpayers, but legally, the board can’t dip into that reserve fund without voter support.

The BOE will thoroughly explain the situation and answer any questions from the public at its regular meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 16, at 7 p.m. in the high school library. And those who live in the district should look for a letter from the superintendent to arrive next week, explaining all of this in detail.

We hope people read that letter, and attend that meeting, if they have concerns. And, after learning why the BOE wants to do what it’s proposing to do, we really hope that voters will grant their permission.

It’s an important project, and will improve the overall learning environment for students. The auditorium provides performance space for the theatre guild and school bands. It provides space for special presentations and community events. It also provides space for graduation. Renovating the auditorium will add to the district’s value — and the money to do so is already there. 

We see no reason to delay. You can show your support for Pine Plains schools and students at the ballot box. For the referendum to pass, a majority of those who vote need to give their OK. We hope they do.