NIAGARA FALLS - The $66.7 million school bond issue to be voted on Sept. 25 will not add a single penny to the local property tax rate, city school officials said Thursday.
School Superintendent Cynthia A. Bianco and school attorney Angelo Massaro told School Board members the entire cost of the project called "Inventing Tomorrow" would be paid by the state government at no cost to the local school district. If voters approve the project in Sept. 25 voting, the money will be borrowed and then paid back by the state over 30 years.
Bianco and Massaro explained that the state pays 98 percent of the cost of capital construction projects in school districts with high rates of poverty, such as Niagara Falls. They said the remaining 2 percent of the cost will be paid with state money called "Excel Funds," which already have been awarded to Niagara Falls. "Excel" stands for Expanding our Children's Education & Learning.
The school district has identified 431 separate projects that could be paid for by the bond issue, including roof and parapet reconstruction, masonry repointing, increased security systems, handicapped accessible facilities, high-technology science laboratories, energy-efficient lighting and heating, parking improvements and repairs to concrete, plumbing and ceilings at various schools.
In addition, the project includes an eight-lane running track with a synthetic turf exhibition field for football, soccer and girls' lacrosse, separate synthetic turf fields for football, varsity and junior varsity softball, varsity and junior varsity baseball, a 2,000-seat grandstand, a press box, six tennis courts and a field house at Niagara Falls High School, and a track and exhibition field with new bleachers, press box and concession stand at LaSalle Preparatory School.
The athletic field construction and improvements are not included in the funding from the state, but they will be paid for with Greenway funds and not with local property taxes. The Greenway funds are supplied by the New York Power Authority as part of its relicensing agreement for the Niagara Power Project.
"If we fail to obtain Greenway funding, we simply won't do the fields," according to information sheets distributed at Thursday's meeting.
If approved, the work is to be done in phases beginning in June 2013 and lasting four to five years. Students and staff are not to be displaced during the construction. If bids for the work come in at less than the $66.7 million included in the bond issue, the district will borrow only the amount needed, and not the entire $66.7 million, Bianco said.
Voting will take place from noon to 9 p.m. Sept. 25 in each of the regular polling places in Niagara Falls.
In other business, Deputy Superintendent Mark Laurrie reported that Thursday's first day of the new school semester "went very, very smoothly." He said all classrooms were fully staffed, school bus runs were on schedule and there were no accidents nor injuries.
Laurrie said nearly 6,500 students were registered, including 1,840 at the high school, "with a few more to come." He said more than 300 children also were registered for prekindergarten classes that will begin Monday. "All of our pre-kindergarten spots are filled," he said.