• Highland Falls - Fort Montgomery CSD

    Proposed Capital Project

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Updated 3.4.2023




    1. Why is it necessary to approve the capital improvement project bond?

    New York State requires voter approval to create a capital reserve.  The voters in the community have approved reserves most recently in 2015 and 2020.  The Board appropriates excess reserves to capital reserves to create a “savings account” to address long term capital project needs.  


    Once funds are appropriated into a capital reserve, a vote, often referred to as a referendum, is required to authorize the use of those monies for a capital project.  This last happened in 2017 when the voters approved the use of $4.3 million in reserves to fund the James I. O’Neill project.


    Monitoring capital investments and safety devices ensures that critical infrastructure is routinely maintained or replaced before an emergency failure occurs.  Much like our own homes, school buildings require necessary repairs, mechanical system replacements, and educational enhancements to produce an optimal learning environment for our students and staff. 


    1. Why is the referendum being put forth this year?

    The Board of Education adopted a set of goals that are aimed at constant improvement of our district.  One of those goals was to 


    “develop and present to the voters a plan for a Capital Project at the FMES which also addresses facilities and infrastructure needs throughout the District without an increase in the tax levy due to this work.”  


    A capital project is the next step in the District’s long term capital improvement plan.  Consideration of facilities needs and planning for this work has been part of the Board of Education’s adopted goals for years.  From a financial perspective, the District has been planning for these needs through the establishment and funding of capital reserves, with the most recent reserve established in 2020.  

    Working with our financial consultants, it was determined that this would be an opportune time to proceed with a capital project that could be accomplished without the need for additional new taxes to be raised. This is because the district has previous bond obligations that are being paid off.   New bonding for this project, along with our capital reserve funds, will allow us to pay for this project without having to raise any additional funds through taxes. 

    Capital planning is an ongoing process.  Districts that are foresighted work to put forth a project every three to five years to address important needs of the district’s buildings, much like preventative maintenance done on a home or vehicle. 


    By planning for this work, the District has created a situation where this essential work can be accomplished while not raising taxes.  This follows on the heels of a successful project that was approved in 2017 which significantly upgraded the facilities at James I. O’Neill High School while remaining tax neutral.  


    1. Why is this vote being held in March as opposed to May along with the annual school budget vote?

    The sooner the voters authorize the capital improvement project, the sooner a  shovel can be placed into the ground.  The two months between March and May are critical in order to take advantage of the important summer months in 2024, while school is out of session.  Once school resumes, construction must be scaled-down so as not to negatively impact instruction.  


    In addition, the project is timed and will be phased to begin in the spring of 2024 in order to realize the benefit of approximately $750,000 of debt falling off in June of 2024.  This is similar to a situation in a family where a car is paid off and the family allocates that payment towards future car needs.  In this case, the debt “payment” will be applied to this project in order to allow the work to be completed while not resulting in an increase in taxes.


    1. If the capital improvement project is approved, when would construction begin and what is the timeline for completion?

    There are many required steps to be taken after voter approval but before construction can begin, including the formulation of detailed designs and construction documents, New York State Education Department (NYSED) review and approval, as well as, the competitive bidding process and mobilization.  It is anticipated that construction would begin in late spring 2024.  Construction would likely take place over a two-year period.


    1. Will all of the school buildings see upgrades and work?

    Each of the schools in the District will have upgrades and enhancements.  These upgrades are critical to maintaining the instructional environment for our children and to minimize disruptions which could occur if systems fail.  These include heating and ventilation as well as electrical upgrades in all buildings, as well as significant upgrades at the Fort Montgomery Elementary School, including the addition of a new gymnasium/cafeteria.


    1. How were the project priorities selected?

    The highest priority repairs and improvements were identified in the District’s recently completed Building Condition Survey report, which is a mandated assessment of school facilities, completed every five years by professional architects and engineers.  In addition to these required repairs and improvements, the Facilities Committee was charged with identifying facility improvements which impact our instruction.  The Facilities Committee reported in public on its work throughout the fall of 2022.  During this time, the scope was reviewed and revised.  The Board of Education approved the final scope of capital improvements on January 19th of this year.  


    1. Haven’t we been maintaining our buildings and facilities all along?

    The District does ongoing, routine maintenance every year.  The proposed upgrades and enhancements are not “routine maintenance.”  They are a series of higher-cost prioritized needs which fall outside the definition of routine maintenance.  


    1. What would happen if the referendum does not pass?

    The repairs and critical infrastructure improvements identified in the Building Condition Survey are items that must be completed in order for the school buildings to remain functional.  If the referendum does not pass, the systems which are failing will continue to fail.  


    Necessary repairs would need to be performed within the District’s annual operating budget, resulting in a reduction to the instructional budget.  If forced into this approach, this work would not be eligible for NYS Building Aid and local taxpayers would be left to pay the full cost of the required repairs.


    1. How can I find more information about the project?

    The District is planning a number of presentations on the project.  The community is invited to attend these upcoming public presentations to learn more and ask questions about the proposed capital project.

    They will take place at the Fort Montgomery Elementary School in the multi-purpose room:

    • Wednesday, March 8th at 7 p.m. 

    • Saturday, March 18th at 10 a.m. 

    • Wednesday, March 22nd at 7 p.m.

    • Saturday, March 25th at 10 a.m.


    1. How do I find out more about voting on the project?

    District residents who are registered to vote in a general election or who have voted on the school budget in the last four years are automatically registered to vote. Others can register to vote on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the office of the District Clerk, Dawn Lent, at 21 Morgan Road, Highland Falls. Proof of residency is required.


    To vote by absentee ballot, you must fill out an application. Contact the district office at (845) 446-9575 to obtain an application. If you want your ballot mailed to you, your application must be returned to the district office no more than (30) days and at least (7) days prior to the vote on March 28th. If you plan to pick up your ballot, your application must be received by March 27th. All absentee ballots must be returned to the district office by 5 p.m., March 28th. 


    1. What is the timeline of the proposed project?

    The timeline for the proposed project is as follows:

    • Community Vote - March 2023

    • Design Development & Review - Spring-Summer 2023

    • NYSED Review & Approval Process - Fall-Winter 2023

    • Bidding Period - Winter-Spring 2023/2024

    • Award of Contracts - By Spring 2024

    • Construction Phase - Summer 2024-Fall 2025

    • Anticipated Project Completion - By November 2025




    1. What impact would the project have on the “Tax Cap”?

    This project has been developed to be TAX NEUTRAL, meaning that this work would not result in an increase in the District’s “Tax Cap” as defined in the New York State “Tax Cap” formula.  This work will not result in an increase in taxes.  


    1. How is the District utilizing the Capital Reserve to offset future borrowing costs?

    The District currently has $8,810,000 in its Capital Reserve.  These monies will be applied to the cost of this project.


    1. Will the state pay for any of this work?

    The District has a building aid ratio of 82.9.  This means that the District will receive 82.9% in New York State Building Aid for all aidable work.  The project has been developed to maximize the amount of aid for the work.  


    1. How is the District able to take on this additional debt?

    As of June 30, 2022, the District’s statutory debt limit, pursuant to Local Finance Law, permits borrowing up to $51,609,742.  The District’s current indebtedness stands well within the statutory debt limit at approximately $15,165,000.  Even if the entirety of the cost of the work was borrowed “up front,” the District would still be under its debt limit.  

    1. In general, why do school renovation projects cost so much?

    School buildings receive a lot of wear and tear over the years from students, visitors and staff members. To prevent class interruptions, projects are often squeezed into the competitive summer building season.  For some parts of a project, work may be scheduled during the school year, but during the “second shift.”  This adds to the cost of that part of a project.  

    In addition, state laws that place restrictions on the bidding process, commonly known as the Wicks Law) which requires multiple bids for the different trades, including general construction, electrical, plumbing, and HVAC.  Due to the nature of our project, there will also be a separate bid for site work.  There are also requirements for strict compliance with wage rates as established by the NYS Department of Labor. 

    All of these things can make projects cost more for a school district than for the average business. Lastly, as you all know, the complications from the pandemic have drastically changed the cost of materials and lead times to obtain materials.  This can lead to cost escalations.  Working with our construction management team, our architects, and our financial planners, we have taken these variables into  account and our project reflects the best planning, including anticipated time escalation due to timing.  

    1. What is the District’s bond rating?

    In its most recent determination, Moody’s Investor Service affirmed the District’s “A1” bond rating.  Our rating is better than the median rating of school districts nationwide, which is reflected in the lower interest rates achieved in the competitive sale of its previous serial bonds.




    1. What is a Building Condition Survey (BCS)?

    The BCS is the most critical component of NYSED Office of Facilities Planning regulations, intended to provide school districts with information on the current condition of their school buildings.  It is a mandated assessment of school buildings performed every five years by licensed architects and mechanical/electrical/plumbing (MEP) engineers, identifying necessary improvements.  School districts are then required to make the necessary improvements in order to maintain safe and healthy school environments for New York’s public-school children.  


    1. When was the District’s most recent BCS performed?

    The most recent BCS was performed during Fall 2022, evaluating necessary infrastructure repairs and mechanical system replacements.  Those items were assigned priority ratings based on NYSED guidelines, and reviewed in great detail by the District’s Facilities Planning Task Force.


    1. Who did the BCS?

    The District’s Architectural and Engineering Firm, BCA Architects and Engineers performed the BCS.  The scope of work was reviewed by District personnel and our Construction Management team, TRITON, to ensure pricing estimates were in line with current market conditions.  Our Financial Planning partners, Rick Timbs, Inc., worked with us to develop a plan for this work utilizing capital reserves, maximizing New York State building aid, and not increasing taxes.  


    1. What types of improvements are included in this project?

    This project includes the most pertinent items identified in the District’s Building Condition Survey, such as roof repairs, boiler replacements, mechanical system upgrades, and repairs to parking lots and drainage.  In addition, the project includes significant ADA and security upgrades at the Fort Montgomery Elementary School as well as an addition which would create a new gymnasium/cafeteria.  The existing gymnasium/cafeteria would be renovated into instructional space, including a library and music/art room.  The kitchen at James I. O'Neill High School would also undergo a thorough renovation.




    1. Why are you planning on the addition of a new gymnasium/cafeteria?

    Over the past 8 years, the District has added six new classes at the Fort Montgomery Elementary School, including two PreKindergarten classes and a special education class.  This, in addition to one additional section of Kindergarten, First Grade, and Second Grade, resulted in the repurposing of the music/art room, the library, and the computer lab.  In addition, office spaces were carved out of two classrooms to accommodate speech and social worker services.  The plan for the project is to add a new gymnasium/cafeteria and renovate the existing gymnasium/cafeteria into a library media center, art/music room, and an instructional support classroom.  The current kitchen will be renovated into a larger health office with upgraded bathrooms.  


    1. What are you doing to address the lack of parking at the Fort School?

    With the addition of new sections and programs to benefit our students, the District also expanded the number of faculty and staff at the Fort Montgomery Elementary School.  In addition, the District added an Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy to each of our buildings to support and protect our children and our faculty and staff.  Every one of those enhancements has been to the benefit of our students and our program.  They have also resulted in a shortage of parking at the school.  


    The project includes the addition of 18-20 parking spots at the Fort Montgomery Elementary School as well as drainage work and repaving of the existing parking lot.  This will alleviate some of the parking pressure that has developed over the past few years and will allow for parking for all faculty and staff as well as visitors throughout the school day.  


    1. What other major repairs are planned as part of this project?

    The project includes a great deal of infrastructure work to support other upgrades to each of the buildings.  Electrical panels will be upgraded in the buildings in order to meet the demands for the HVAC upgrades.  Each of the buildings will have upgrades or replacements in the heating and cooling systems and the project calls for all of the buildings to have air conditioning installed in the classrooms and learning spaces.  


    The roof systems at both the Highland Falls Intermediate School and the James I. O'Neill High School are past their serviceable life and are beginning to fail.  This project will address these issues in order to protect the facilities beneath them. 


    The Fort Montgomery Elementary School will see significant upgrades in terms of accessibility.  Currently, the interior space of the building does not allow individuals with mobility disabilities to access all of the spaces.  We have, in the past, had students who needed to be shuttled from area to area in order to have them be able to fully participate in the program.  That is just not acceptable.  We will install ramps and lifts inside the building in order to provide access and improve our ability to work with our students.  Accessibility to the front of the building will be improved with a new ADA ramp.


    Another enhancement at the Fort Montgomery Elementary School is the creation of a secure vestibule at the main entrance.  This will allow for visitors to the school to be appropriately screened without having full access to the building.  


    Like the parking lot at the Fort Montgomery Elementary School, the parking lot at the Highland Falls Intermediate School will be replaced and new drainage will be designed and installed to alleviate the issues which caused the degradation of the asphalt over the past ten or so years.  


    The kitchen at the  James I. O'Neill High School will be fully renovated, including new plumbing and electrical equipment as well as new cooking equipment.  The kitchen has met the basic needs of the District as the main cooking kitchen for all three buildings, but the equipment is failing.  In addition, there is inadequate equipment to meet the needs of the food service program.  While there are warming ovens and a griddle, there is not a stove.  Our dedicated team of workers have made the best of this situation for many, many years, but the inadequate equipment limits the ability of our team to cook fresh, wholesome meals for our students.  


    1. Why don’t you just fix the elementary school on Mountain Avenue?

    The facilities committee considered many factors prior to deciding to renovate Fort Montgomery Elementary School.  Among these were the condition of the Highland Falls Elementary School after thirteen years of vacancy, already congested traffic on Mountain Avenue, timing of transportation (bus routes), and financial viability.  While each of those things ultimately pointed in the direction of renovating and adding to the Fort Montgomery Elementary School, a key factor was financial viability.  Every building in the District has what are known as aid units.  These, generally, refer to the amount of New York State Building Aid that could be generated from construction.  A number of things are generally constant, such as high schools tending to generate more aid than middle or elementary schools.  Another known fact is that a closed building has nearly no aidability.  The District could do a project at the HFES, but that would generate no aid and the cost would be paid solely by the taxpayers.  In addition, to reopen the HFES as a school would likely require demographic studies that looked back at the past five to ten years as well as projected forward.  Given enrollment trends throughout the region, it is possible that the state would not approve a project at the HFES, even if aid was not an issue, which it is.


    1. So what are you doing about the Highland Falls Elementary School?

    State Senator James Skoufis has applied for a Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY) grant which will enable the District to bring the heat and the water systems back to operation.  These grants take time to fund and we are hopeful that we will be able to get this work done in the next year or two.  Once the heat and water are working, the District will be able to consider uses of the building.  Significant renovations will be needed and these will be done over time as space from the building is needed or sought.  It is anticipated that the building will remain an asset to the District and to the community.  In the short term, the District will be disposing of a decade’s worth of accumulated obsolete materials, broken or damaged furniture and supplies which are stored there.  


    1. Didn’t you just do a project at O’Neill?  Why didn’t you take care of the O’Neill things at that time?

    The project at James I. O’Neill, which addressed significant needs in terms of drainage, paving, and exterior lighting, classroom spaces, ADA upgrades, renovations to the outdated and obsolete physical education spaces inside the building and failed athletic fields, courts, and track, was based on the 2015 BCS.  Many of the items on the list for the 2022 BCS had ten-year life expectancies when the scope of the 2017 project was proposed.  The plan for that work was developed between the summer of 2015 and spring of 2017.  Nearly ten years have passed since that BCS and by the time this work is complete, more than ten years will have passed.  In addition, as the committee looked to upgrade HVAC systems throughout the other two buildings, it was necessary to look at the systems at O’Neill.  This project will address this system and, in doing so, necessitates additional electrical work at the building.


    For information purposes, the inclusion of work at the Highland Falls Intermediate School and the James I. O’Neill High School increased the total aidability of this project.  It is likely that if those buildings were not included in the scope of this project, the cost of work at the Fort Montgomery Elementary School would have exceeded the ability of the District to perform it, based on the Capital Reserves and the aidability, without adding to the tax burden of the community.  By including the HFIS and JIO, more work could be done at all buildings while keeping this project tax neutral.