Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Beacon High School Public Forum Notes

Around 100 people gathered tonight for the public forum on the future of the old Beacon High School building. Attendees of the forum included current tenants of the building, residents of Beacon, members of the press and members of the Beacon Board of Education as well as concerned individuals from around the area.

The Forum was moderated by Dr. Jean Parr, superintendent of the Beacon School District. Dr. Parr started the forum by giving a report on the state of affairs since the school district regained possession of the building on December 7, 2006. The floor was then opened up for questions from the audience before a workshop session began where groups of six to eight people created lists of positive and negative aspects pertaining to the building and its current status and a list of suggestions for the future, all of which will be reviewed by the Board of Education. The resulting lists were posted around the cafeteria for attendees to view, after which, the forum was concluded.

A major item that emerged from the forum pertained to the actual amount of money the Beacon City School District received from the Beacon Cultural Foundation when the building was sold in 2003 for the price of $4.25M. In response to a question on the details of the sale, Dr. Parr stated that the BCSD received a down payment of $250,000 from BCF in 2003, but received no further payments on the principle or interest.

Dr Parr stated that since taking possession of the building on Dec. 7, the BCSD has been in the process of assessing the needs of the building, doing necessary repairs and maintenance, identifying tenants, verifying that tenants have the required insurance as stipulated in their leases and overall, assuming the role of landlord. Currently, there are 35 tenants in the building representing an occupancy of around one third of the building's square footage. The current leases ranging in length from one to three years will be honored by the BCSD for as long as it owns the building.

An appraisal of the building is currently being performed by a company from Newburgh to determine the value of the property as a whole as well as the fair market rental value on a basis of square footage to determine if current rents are set appropriately. The results of the appraisal will be presented at the BOE Finance committee meeting on Feb 12.

Dr. Parr broke down the income and expenses of the building for the period between 12/7/06 and 1/24/07 and projected the monthly estimates going forward.

For the period between 12-7-06 - 1/24/07:
Rental Income : $32,190 (monthly estimate: $20,000)

Heat: $21,603 (monthly estimate: $17,000)
Electric: $3,050 (monthly estimate: $2,200)
Maintenance: $754
Custodial: $1,161
Repairs: $11,100
Appraisal: $5000
Total Expenses for period: $46,493

During this first six week period, BCSD's expenses outstripped the rental income by over $14,000. Dr. Parr stated that upon entering the building, the BCSD found it in serious need of maintenance. Of the three boilers, one is "dead" and the other two were in need of repair. Dr. Parr described much of the work done thus far as "band aid maintenance" just to keep the building functional but that much more would need to be done. A portion of the roof needs repairs estimated at $50,000 to $70,000, and that existing leaks render nearly one third of the building unable to be occupied.

In response to some questions regarding mixing educational programs for children with existing artist studios, Dr Parr replied that if the building were to be used by the BCSD for school purposes in addition to other uses, the building would have to meet certain safety and fire standards to earn certification, (which would be very costly to achieve in this case) and at least 50% of the building must be used for the benefit of children. (While the Beacon Academy was in existence in the building, an area of six classrooms was certified according to State Board of Ed. safety regulations and cordoned off from the rest of the building.) The Montessori school that is currently a tenant of the building is not bound by such requirements.

When questioned about the possibility of receiving grants to underwrite programs in the building, Dr. Parr replied that any grant sought by the BOE is limited to the scope of its own educational programs. I imagine that this does not eliminate the possibility of another party applying for grants to support some activity within the building. Dr. Parr referenced the securing of funds by Dia:Beacon to allow for field trips Beacon Public School children to visit the museum at a time when, due to budget cuts, the school district has eliminated all of its self funded field trips.

Dr. Parr said that the BOE has not made any decisions on the future fate of the building, and any decision will be made according to its financial feasibility. When asked, she said the decision to sell will be made solely by the BOE and it will not be open to public discussion. The BOE has not been approached by parties interested in buying the property.

I was not able to make it around to view the various lists created by the workshop session, but if someone would like to share some of the ideas they found most interesting, please post a comment. Also, if you attended the meeting and would like to share your thoughts, feel free to do so.

Updated 1.25.07:
Some conversation between a few of the attendees from last night's meeting has been going on today at the Beacon Discussion Board.

Updated 2.14.07:
The announcement of the building's appraisal has been postponed, perhaps until the next BOE meeting, or the next meeting of the finance committee.
Updated 2.22.07:
BCF President Sam Yanes offers and explanation of financial arrangement made between BCF and BCSD on the Beacon Discussion Board (message #9920.)

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