February 05, 2008


Area school projects hit bottleneck

Delays at state level push back start dates and drive up building costs


Bob Ellis/staff photographer   
Forms are in place as work continues at Cincinnatus Central School to enlarge the cafeteria and move the mechanical room to ground level. Cincinnatus and every other school district in the county are undertaking construction projects, spurred by an increase in state aid. The flood of school projects statewide has caused delays in project approvals.

Staff Reporter

Last year’s special allocation of state aid for construction projects at all school districts has resulted in a glut of building projects, slowing state approvals and driving up costs.
The review time may reach 25 weeks for projects submitted after Jan. 1, according to the state Education Department. That compares to the normal review of about 15 weeks.
Many school districts will be hard pressed to begin construction this year, after local votes are held and bidding is complete.
The state has traditionally paid a large percentage of the cost of local school projects, with the local taxpayers funding the balance.
A new form of aid passed last year, Expanding our Children’s Education and Learning, is paying the local share for construction projects.
“EXCEL aid provided to each district is the largest factor in the increased workload,” SED spokesman Jonathan Burman said in an e-mail.
Burman noted there are about 952 projects waiting to be reviewed, a 75 percent increase in projects from last year at this time. Eight reviewers are working and one position is vacant, he noted after an architect left last month.
Burman explained that SED works as the code enforcement office for all public schools outside of New York City. Therefore, it reviews projects for compliance with state building code, SED commissioner regulations, Americans with Disabilities Act requirements and any other standards that apply. When projects are approved, SED issues the building permit to allow construction to begin, Burman said.
Some schools, such as Groton, have already received SED approval for construction projects
Sherri Shurtleff, business administrator for Groton schools, said state Education Department approval came in December for a nearly $14.5 million project that includes $338,726 from EXCEL aid. A year earlier on Dec. 12, 2006, voters had approved it. She said the project had been sent to SED in August.
“We were ahead of the curve on it so we feel quite fortunate,” said Shurtleff, noting the project was already being formulated before EXCEL aid was available. She said the project would be bid out this week and is on schedule. Ashley McGraw is the architect.
Other schools were not as lucky as Groton. While Homer and Dryden also submitted projects before the state Education Department posted long waiting periods, these districts have not received state approval.
Homer Superintendent of Schools Doug Larison said the district’s $16.5 million project was submitted in mid-November when SED had posted an estimated 12-week review period.
“Two weeks ago we were about halfway through the list,” he said, meaning about half the schools that had submitted projects to SED were ahead of Homer in the review process.
Larison said he was not sure the project would be reviewed within the 12-week cycle SED had advertised when the project was submitted.
The district had hoped to start the project in the spring of this year and Larison said this morning that the schedule should hold if approval comes as late as April.
He said increasing fuel and steel costs may push up the cost of construction.
Cincinnatus Central School will not complete its project as scheduled. District Superintendent Steve Hubbard said he had hoped to complete the EXCEL project with a current project, wrapping up both in December.
“It’s not going to happen. We’re understanding of that,” said Hubbard. “September ’09 is more realistic.”
After cost estimates increased, some work proposed for the current $14.5 million project was either shifted into the $3.8 million EXCEL-funded project or will only be done if funds are available. Hubbard said Thursday the $3.8 million project was being submitted to SED sometime this week.
Hubbard said the delay could mean a more costly project if the current trend of quickly escalating construction costs continues.
He said the district is taking another look at the $3.8 million EXCEL project to make sure the bid documents are detailed.
Hubbard said the longer the approval process, the greater the chance that construction costs will increase.
“There is never any promises on the cost of construction,” he said. He said even with the original construction project, the job had to be rebid with changes in scope made because the original bids came in too high. Stieglitz Synder Architecture, of Buffalo, is the district’s architect.
Jim Wasley, a construction manager for C&S Design Build, which is designing several school projects, said Thursday that right now there are not a lot of school projects being done. He said schools with state education approval going out to bid now or this spring should receive good bids.
He also noted schools that had hoped for state approval so projects could be bid by this spring and started by summer could face a difficult decision — wait for the following summer when the cost would likely increase or try to start the project in the fall or winter.
“We are serving the clients we already have,” said Stephen Somogy, principal and architect for Hunt Engineers Architects & Surveyors. He said his firm is large and it has many clients statewide. In this area, the firm is providing architectural services for projects including Cortland, McGraw and Homer school districts.
If another district contacted his firm about a new project, Somogy said the firm would evaluate the project and base its decision to accept it on the district’s schedule and needs.
“Certainly there’s a lot of projects going on and it is causing delays at the State Education Department,” he said.
Three school districts have not had local votes on their projects yet — Cortland, McGraw and Marathon. Project information was not provided by DeRuyter Central School.

Proposed construction

Here is a list of ongoing school building projects that will be using Expanding our Children’s Education and Learning aid:
* Cincinnatus is undertaking a $3.8 million project with about $513,000 in EXCEL aid. On June 6 the public voted for the project, which includes a four-classroom elementary addition; roof work; security, fire alarm, clock and public address systems, lighting and ceiling lights. The project is under way.
* Cortland is planning a $40.1 million project with $2.2 million in EXCEL aid that includes several million to repair and expand an athletic field, changing it from grass to turf. The project also includes improvements to security, technology, accessibility and energy efficiency in its six school buildings. Renovations to the bus garage are also included. The public votes on the project Feb. 12.
* Dryden is doing a $4.3 million project with around $578,000 in EXCEL aid. The project, which includes roofing and renovations, has been partially submitted to the state Education Department. Voters approved the project on April 3.
* Groton residents OK’d on Dec. 12, 2006, a $14.5 million project. The district will use nearly $339,000 in EXCEL aid. The district received state approval for the project in December. The project includes numerous updates to elementary, middle school/high school and bus garage buildings, including new heating systems, roofs and athletic field improvements.
* Homer residents approved a $16.5 million construction project March 6. The project is being reviewed by the state. It includes district-wide improvements in security, accessibility and energy use.
* Marathon is proposing a $19 million project with $600,000 in EXCEL aid. The project is still being finalized, but proposals include adding solar panels to the high school and elementary school, a windmill for the elementary school, and a turf field in addition to renovations. A date for a vote has not been set yet.
* McGraw residents vote March 18 on a _$7.1 million project that would renovate the elementary, high school and bus garage including upgrades to security, heating, technology and accessibility to buildings. The project also includes roofing and window replacement using nearly $458,000 in EXCEL aid.




Marietta cuts management, nonproduction positions

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Marietta Corp. cut management and nonproduction positions Thursday, said a company spokesman who would not provide details Monday.
“We just had a restructuring and a rightsizing,” Chief Operating Officer David Dustin said.
The cuts apply to Marietta’s plants in Cortland, Los Angeles, Olive Branch, Miss., and Chicago.
Dustin would not say how many jobs were eliminated or provide a breakdown by plant or department.
He said the layoffs are across all departments, and that the cuts would help the company better serve its customers. He would not be specific, citing concerns about potential competition.
Dustin said it is possible some of the workers will be hired back by the company. He would not provide more details.
He emphasized that production staff were not affected. The company has hired 200 production workers for its Cortland plants since May, he said.
The company has a plant on Huntington Street, which includes its corporate offices, and one in the 400,000-square-foot former Rubbermaid factory on Central Avenue.
Marietta produces trial and sample size packages of soaps and shampoos. It produces and packages a variety of personal care amenities used in hospitals and hotels. The company also produces retail health and beauty products for consumers.
Dustin would not say how many employees the company has, but in June a Marietta official said the company employs more than 600 people in Cortland.
Dustin said the extra production workers were hired as part of a more than $8 million company expansion.
The company added new production lines, though he would not say how many, and won new contracts, though he would not say how many.
In June then-Vice President of Human Resources James Gallagher said the company was installing five new production lines to handle four new long-term contracts.
Gallagher has since left the company, and Dustin said the departure was Gallagher’s decision. Gallagher could not be reached this morning.




Walsh named to Cornell board

Local attorney and former Cortland mayor Ronald Walsh Jr. has been appointed to the Cornell University board of trustees.
Walsh, of Pleasant Street, graduated from Cornell in 1981 with a bachelor’s degree from the School of Industrial and Labor Relations.
At the recommendation of Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D-Ithaca), Democratic state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver appointed Walsh to serve as his designee on the 64-member board.
The governor, the speaker of the Assembly and the president of the Senate have voting rights on the board of trustees but usually appoint someone to serve in their place, according to a press release issued by Lifton.
Walsh said he comes from a “Cornell family,” given the fact that his brother and one of his sisters went to the university, as well as three of his brothers-in-law. His sister is also assistant dean of students at Cornell.
“There are a significant number of Cortland County residents who either work for Cornell or with companies that are located in the region because of Cornell. It’s certainly in our parochial interests for Cornell to fare well.” Walsh said.
Walsh served as a Cortland County legislator, 2nd Ward alderman and deputy mayor before being elected mayor in 1992, serving four two-year terms. Since 2006, he has been an assistant county attorney and has also served as town attorney for Harford.




Weather service issues flood watch for Tioughnioga

Staff Reporter

A flood watch is in effect for Cortland County today, with more rain expected tonight and into Wednesday.
The Tioughnioga River will likely swell above its 8-foot flood stage sometime Wednesday morning, said Joanne LaBounty, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Binghamton, which issued the flood watch.
It could crest at as much as 10 feet later that night or Thursday morning, she said.
A third of an inch of rain had fallen between 9 a.m. Monday and 9 a.m. today.
“We still have some showers coming through this afternoon, but it looks like there’s going to be another shot of some heavier showers overnight tonight and into tomorrow,” LaBounty said this morning.
LaBounty said that between a quarter of an inch and a half an inch of rain could fall overnight tonight, with another batch of rain falling later Wednesday.
Cortland County Fire & Emergency Management Deputy Director Brenda DeRusso said that as much as 2 inches of rain could fall as the result of a frontal system moving into the area today and tonight and into Wednesday.
Areas of Oneida County that already had about a foot of snow on the ground were hit with almost an inch of rain Monday, and the heavier-hit areas to the north won’t be alone in feeling the effects, LaBounty said.
“All that snow melt and rain is going to make its way down through the river system,” she said.
While temperatures are expected to reach the upper 40s today, they’ll begin to drop overnight to the mid-40s, falling to the 30s by midafternoon Wednesday.