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Chappaqua Residents Voting On $42.5M Bond Package For Schools, Library

Signage in downtown Chappaqua notes voting information. Voters will decide whether to approve a $42.5 million bond package to pay for renovations at each school building and at the library. Turf fields would also be installed.
Signage in downtown Chappaqua notes voting information. Voters will decide whether to approve a $42.5 million bond package to pay for renovations at each school building and at the library. Turf fields would also be installed. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. -- Voters in the Chappaqua Central School District will decide on Tuesday whether to approve a $42.5 million bond package that would pay for a series of major renovations at each building, along with an overhaul of the library.

Voting takes place from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Horace Greeley High School. Details on the package can be read here.

The renovated academic spaces are meant to promote the concept of what the district calls "active learning," which is where students get to apply and practice what they are being taught, merely than passively taking notes.

To that end, existing school libraries would be converted into "Global Learning Centers," which would offer room for research, video conferencing, collaboration among students and flexibility to adapt for future uses.

“This is the time, if we're going to have a bond, to put forth a bond,” Chappaqua Schools Superintendent Lyn McKay said at a May info session for the public.

Additionally, a series of STEAM Learning Centers - STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math - will be added at Greeley, at Seven Bridges Middle School and at Robert E. Bell Middle School. The STEAM spaces will offer students the ability to sketch and design prototypes for projects, work on robotics and work on fabrication. Fine-arts studios would also be included.

Meanwhile, the high school would feature a small building addition, along with a renovation to the "L building," which would allow conference spaces to facilitate in-person and virtual research. The rooms would be outfitted with mobile technology and flexible furniture.

The bond would also include a pair of turf athletic fields. One field would replace the main competition space at Greeley, while the other would be installed by Bell. 

Peter Kuczma, Chappaqua's athletic director, outlined several options being explored for turf-field materials. One involves the use of coconut and cork, which is what was recently installed in the Pleasantville school district. The other would involve the use of quartz. The turf fields have garnered concern from some residents who fear that they could present health concerns. Kuczma noted that previous fields, which were made from crumb rubber, did not have evidence to show health issues. He also noted that the proposed turf would be made from material that is “environmentally friendly.”

The Chappaqua Library is also a big beneficiary of the bond package, which calls for a major interior renovation and small square-footage additions. The changes would include adding bathrooms that are compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Acts, a new area for children, a new quiet area for adults, a new cafe space and a new teen zone. 

Not included in the bond, according to Library Director Pamela Thornton, is a second, but long-awaited measure to add 25 parkings spaces to the back of the library. That item is still a work in progress.

The bond package is intended to be tax neutral. Debt service would be handled through a combination of low-interest debt - the historically low rates have been noted as a factor in moving forward - along with reallocating some annual budgetary funds. Additionally, the state would offer building aid to pay for 33.6 percent for each project's cost. Finally, the district intends to raise $7 million from the sale of properties, according to Assistant Superintendent for Business John Chow, which would be meant to pay for costs in the first couple of years. For the long term, retiring old debt will contribute to the project's tax-neutral status.

The bond has encountered some opposition. Residents Judy McGrath and Jim McCauley, for example, notes that it would bring Chappaqua's total indebtedness to a new record high. McGrath and McCauley also argue that avoiding the new debt will allow for the district to be more flexible in dealing with future fiscal problems.

The district disputes the assertions, noting in a letter to Daily Voice that indebtedness will be lower than it was in the early 2000's. The highest projected annual principal debt, which would be slated for 2018-19, would reach a nominal record but on an inflation-adjusted basis would fall well short of the previous one, which was set in 2004-05.

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