Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Proposed capital projects to bring many upgrades to Peekskill schools

Rendering of space where the pool once was in the Administration building. Proposed capital plan would turn it into classrooms.

Editor’s Note:  This story was updated on Nov. 9 to reflect the passage of a state wide voting referendum increasing the debt limit for small city schools from five percent to ten percent.

The total bond debt of the district will remain under five percent of the allowable debt with the increased amount being proposed. A previous story misstated the impact of the new debt.

An ambitious plan to bring a variety of capital improvements to the Peekskill schools will go before the voters at a Dec.12 special referendum to decide whether or not to approve two projects totaling up to $44.99 million in new debt. (The state reimburses the district for over 80 percent of the costs of capital projects.)

City residents will decide at a Dec.12 special referendum whether or not to approve two projects totaling $44.99 million in new debt. The state reimburses the district for over 80% of the costs of capital projects.

A previous local vote in 2019 won overwhelming support for a $10.6 million capital project with a vote of 351 in favor and 94 voting no. That project included STEAM labs at the high school and Hillcrest, a new turf surface and upgrades at Torpy Field and a Resource Center at the former firehouse on South Division Street.

PHS projects involve new roofs, entrance and vestibule work, new flooring and classrooms.

The bonds sold to pay for that 2019 project kept the district’s debt under the state constitutional cap of 5% of the five-year average value of all taxable real estate within the district. Peekskill is one of the few municipalities in the state under that cap because it is a small city school district.

A proposition on the Nov. 7 ballot will raise that state-mandated limit to 10 percent, treating Peekskill and other small city districts the same as all other districts in the state. The five percent debt limit was created in the middle of the last century and predates budget votes. The district has $71.6 million available in new debt before reaching the existing five percent limit.

Projects in the capital plans

The first capital plan on the Dec. 12 Peekskill referendum is for $32.99 million and includes many projects. PHS projects involve new roofs, entrance and vestibule work, new flooring and classrooms, renovate and relocate the fitness center and prepare unused space at the Administration Building for additional high school classrooms.

The other projects are classroom renovations, repaving the Hillcrest parking lot, new roofs at Hillcrest and maintenance projects at Uriah Hill and Hillcrest. The state will reimburse the district for 86% of those costs.

The second referendum on the Dec. 12 ballot is for an up to $12 million Energy Performance Contract to improve efficiency and save on expenses. That money will be reimbursed by the state at a rate of 86% but will increase to 96% with voter approval.

Those projects include district-wide LED lighting in classrooms and hallways; solar panels to the new roofs at Hillcrest and PHS; replacing building management systems; solar charging stations; increased A/C capacity and Uriah Hill and PHS; new HVAC system at the PHS library and a new boiler; and self-compacting garbage and recycling refuse containers.

Changing the state debt cap on small school districts

The New York Constitution defines a small city district as being partly or fully within a city with less than 125,000 inhabitants.

In order to amend the New York Constitution, an amendment must pass each chamber in the New York State Legislature with a simple majority vote for two consecutive legislative sessions. Voters then need to approve the measure by a simple majority vote.

The amendment on small city district debt was introduced to the state legislature as Senate Bill 8803 (SB8803) on April 19, 2022. It passed the New York State Senate by 56-5 on May 25, 2022. It then passed the New York State Assembly by 148-1 on June 3, 2022.

The bill was introduced to the following legislative session in 2023. It passed the Assembly by 145-0 on March 13, and passed the Senate by 60-2 on March 29. Because the amendment passed both chambers of the state legislature in two consecutive sessions, it was referred to the ballot for voters this November.

The New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA) and the Association of Small City School Districts are urging voters to pass the statewide proposition on Nov. 7.

“Currently, these districts have difficulty financing needed capital improvements for health and safety projects, HVAC improvements, roofing replacements, facility renovations and additions to address instructional and enrollment needs as well as changing state requirements,” the groups said. “Often, projects must be broken up into a sequential series of smaller projects over a number of years in order to stay under the 5% debt limit cap. This is inefficient and can lead to more costly projects.

“Some voters may skip over the ballot proposal because they have no familiarity with the issue or feel as if they have no personal stake in it. That’s why NYSSBA is joining the Association of Small City School Districts in urging school leaders throughout the state to publicize the ballot proposal in district newsletters, social media and personal contacts.”

Peekskill district administrators believe the new bond debt will not have any additional tax impact because the district’s overall bond debt will be declining as older bonds are paid off. The district spent $1.78 million on interest last year on $44.85 million of general obligation bonds and retired $3.9 million in debt. The total school district expenses last year totaled $125.52 million.

The school district is hosting a Town Hall meeting on Nov. 2 at 6:30 p.m. at the high school to explain the proposed capital projects to residents.

You can watch a video from the district explaining the proposed capital projects here












About the Contributor
Jim Roberts
Jim Roberts has been in this business for more than 35 years (hard to believe) and still learning every day. A third-generation Peekskill resident, he started as a lowly researcher at the Westchester Business Journal in 1986 and learned how to be a reporter from many veterans in the field. He’s worked in private companies, Connecticut state government and wrote for the Co-op City Times for 10 years before retiring from full-time work in 2019. Roberts wants to contribute to building the Herald into a news website for residents who care about what’s happening in Peekskill.