October 31, 2007


Part of proposed city school construction —

Turf field project considered


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Moiseichik Field at Cortland Junior-Senior High School. The field is currently under consideration for multi-million dollar renovations.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The city Board of Education is looking beyond 2010 by considering a two-phase project that would total $40 million and include repair of Moiseichik Field or possible expansion with artificial turf.
The phasing — $25 million initially and $15 million later — would prevent the district from exceeding its debt limit of $38 million, said Scott Cyr, an architectural designer with Horseheads-based Hunt Engineers, Architects and Land Surveyors.
Mark Vislosky, president of Fiscal Advisors, of Syracuse, said if the debt ceiling is exceeded, 60 percent of school district residents have to vote for the project. The school district has existing debt from the $17.9 million capital project that was approved by voters in 1996.
Potentially the biggest item on the renovation list is Moiseichik Field, with a price tag of around $5.5 million if its track is upgraded to eight lanes and the field is changed to artificial turf.
“There are an unbelievable set of dilemmas around this,” said Superintendent of Schools Laurence Spring. “Many questions have to be answered.”
One big question is drainage and whether there is an underground stream under part of the field. Athletic Director Jeff Johnson has to find other playing fields for teams many times during the fall and spring because the field is flooded.
Cry said the wetlands near the field may extend slightly under the bleachers.
Other field options are to expand the track to eight lanes in the existing location or to expand the lower field and keep the six-lane track around the upper field.
This option could allow space for a future baseball field.
These options would all include a turf field, but should cost less than the first option , said Cyr, mainly because they would not disturb the wetlands.
Vislosky said athletic facility costs would be categorized as an incidental cost and would have to be covered by the $6.1 million allocated for incidental costs at the high school. Incidental costs cover a wide range of services such as legal fees and asbestos testing.
Board President Tom Brown said after the workshop session that the field work would be part of the second phase of the project, which would likely start sometime after 2011.
Cyr said the total proposed construction cost for all the work outlined was $30.7 million but the total would come to $50.7 million once $20 million in contingency and incidental fees are added. The board has yet to make cuts to bring the total cost down to $40 million.
“There’s still a little too much in there,” Spring said. “How should we begin?” he asked the board.
“One dilemma is around energy,” Spring said. He said the heating systems in all the buildings are aging and eventually will need to be replaced. He asked the board if they wanted to replace one or two in the project.
Board member Lisa Hoeschele said the district would save money by replacing the aging systems. Steven Somogy, principal at Hunt Engineers, said changing from a steam to a hot water system should save 20 percent in consumption costs.
“I don’t think we should roll the dice on this,” said Vice President Christine Place.
The Randall Elementary steam system and replacing the oil furnace at Virgil are slated for phase one of this project. The timing of the work has not been determined.
Another issue was security. Surveillance cameras are included in the project at all buildings. Board member Mike Doughty, former executive principal at the Cortland Junior-Senior High School, said there are cameras at the high school and no one is watching them. He said they were also hard to back up. Spring said he watches the cameras.
Spring said monitoring parking lots with cameras is also in the project.
Vislosky also noted that the district receives 98 percent in state aid on the portion of construction projects that are aidable, such as health and safety improvements. He said it would be conservative to assume 97 percent of the project is aidable at 98 percent.
The district has $2.1 million in Expanding Our Children’s Education and Learning, or EXCEL, aid and with this the project has potentially no local property tax impact.
“I am confident the tax impact would be minimal,” said Spring, adding he thinks the tax increase would be under 1 percent. He noted that $150,000 in expenditures adds 1 percent to the tax levy.

The costs for each building were broken down by infrastructure costs — roofing, windows and replacing heating, ventilation and air conditioning — and program enhancements, such as technology. One program enhancement common to each school was adding interactive whiteboards — a system of learning that allows students to “click in” on answers to problems teachers pose in the classroom.
The breakdowns were:
l Parker Elementary — $1.6 million for infrastructure and $1 million for program improvements;
l Randall Elementary — $2.7 million infrastructure and $1.6 million for program;
l Smith Elementary — $1.2 million infrastructure and $1 million program;
l Barry Elementary — $1.4 million infrastructure and $1 million program;
l Virgil Elementary — $2.1 million infrastructure and $1 million program;
l Kaufman Center (including bus garage) $1.4 million; and
l Junior-Senior High School — $5.9 million infrastructure, $8.7 million program, total $14.6 million.




Woman in drowning case claims rights not read to her

Staff Reporter

ITHACA — A Dryden woman accused of drowning her 2-year-old niece testified in Tompkins County Court Tuesday that she was never informed she could stop the interview investigators conducted at the State Police barracks in Ithaca on May 15.
“The only thing they (the police investigators) said was that they need information to help Grace,” said Marie Manos, referring to her niece Grace E. Manos. “I never thought I could leave. If I thought I could, I would have.”
Her attorney William P. Sellers IV has moved to have the statements Manos made to police on the night of the incident thrown out. He contends Manos was not properly advised of her Miranda rights.
Manos and three police investigators testified Tuesday at a hearing on the matter.
Tompkins County District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson is hoping to use the statements Manos made in the taped three-hour interview at trial.
Manos said she felt intimidated and thought she had to answer the officer’s questions. She added that before the interview she asked whether she was in trouble, being arrested or needed a lawyer.
“I specifically remember they told me, ‘No, this is just procedural.’”
State Police Investigator Richard Prunier Jr., who conducted the interview, denied telling Manos she did not need a lawyer and said Manos never asked him those questions.
Prior to the interview, Prunier read Manos her Miranda rights orally; he also read them again from a form, which is on videotape, before the interview was conducted, he testified.
Sellers questioned why the form Prunier was reading from did not advise Manos she could stop the interview.
“Do you know what, ‘you have the right to remain silent,’ means?” Wilkinson asked Manos, who responded she did.
Prunier said Manos never refused to answer a question or asked to stop the interview.
“No one told me I could do that,” Manos said about her right to stop the interview. “I was intimidated by a lot of things they said to me. They more or less said I was a liar.”
Wilkinson asked Manos if she was lucid on the stand and the night of the interview because she said she could only remember a couple of specific questions that night, like when she asked the investigators if she needed a lawyer and they said no. Manos said she could not remember the specific wording of the rights read to her, though.



Few object to possible 7th Ward DMV site

County holds first meeting to detail pros and cons of three potential sites for new DMV, two of which are in the ward.

Staff Reporter

Only a handful of attendees at a public meeting Wednesday night objected to locating a new county Department of Motor Vehicles office in the 7th Ward of the city.
It was one of several meetings that the county is using to gauge public opinion relative to the new DMV location.
About 30 residents came to Wednesday’s meeting at the East End Community Center, where they reviewed the process of choosing the three possible sites with the help of a presentation given by Legislator Carol Tytler (D-3rd Ward).
Although some residents favored locations that were not on the short list of three properties — mainly because of worries about the city’s ever-shrinking tax base — Tytler stressed that the county had already narrowed the choices down and was only seeking public input relative to those sites.
Two of the proposed locations are within the city’s 7th Ward; there is a site on the corner of Cleveland and River streets and one in the BOCES plaza off Port Watson and River streets.
The third location lies between Route 13 and Route 281 in Cortlandville.
The site on Route 13 is a roughly 3 acre parcel carrying an asking price of $300,000, while the 2.2 acre site on Cleveland and River streets has an asking price of $400,000. There has been no price set for the BOCES site yet, Tytler said.
The criteria for a DMV office location include the need for a 4,000-square-foot building; about 50 parking spaces; public utilities; proximity to high traffic areas without being difficult to access; enough space for a drive-thru window; lack of environmental concerns; and distance from flood zones.
The design phase of any new office has yet to begin as the county tries to pick the best site, Tytler said. Estimates for the cost of building the office are about $400,000 to $500,000.
The decision has not yet been made regarding whether the county would buy or lease the properties. The hope is that the DMV project would be completed in 2008.
After Tytler concluded a PowerPoint presentation detailing the process, she took questions from the audience.
Elsie Ferro of Denti Way asked about the effect of further diminishing the city’s tax base as the county purchases properties, leaving them tax exempt.
Tytler said the Cleveland Street site is assessed at $79,000 and that roughly $2,300 per year would be lost in city property tax revenue, should the county settle on that site.




DeRuyter lists new medical regulations

Staff Reporter

DeRUYTER — School district officials met Tuesday night to explain revisions on district medication handling procedures with approximately 15 parents concerned about a nurse who mistakenly gave a kindergarten class Ritalin instead of fluoride.
Superintendent of Schools Bruce Sharpe and Elementary School Principal Jan Ahlsen outlined the changes.
“We are not here to talk about personnel tonight but I will be happy to talk with you personally,” Sharpe said to the parents. “We are aware that things were not being done right and we are trying to correct that.”
The changes in the regulations are a direct result of an incident that occurred Oct. 18, when the elementary school nurse, whose name is still not being released by the district, accidentally gave a teacher Ritalin tablets instead of fluoride pills to distribute to 15 kindergartners.
The children were told to spit out the pills after they complained of the taste, but it is unknown how much of the drug they may have ingested.
The district suspended the nurse with pay indefinitely Friday.
Sharpe said the nurse is suspended until the school and the state Board of Education complete their investigations.
“We are doing our best to cover the nurse’s office. We don’t have a registered nurse available,” Sharpe said. “We are not doing anything without a nurse present and we are doing our best to get one here.”
Sharpe said the district has a couple registered nurses filling in when they can, and administrators are also helping to cover the nurse’s office.
District administrators reviewed other school medication distribution policies, took into consideration suggestions of the parents with children at the school district and advice from the state Board of Education to make the changes to the regulations of administering medication.
“This is just a draft,” Sharpe said.
The draft includes regulations such as only the nurse is allowed to distribute medication to students, labels are to be read three times before giving the medicine to the student and medication is to be stored in a locked cabinet or separate locked drawer in the health office.




Tompkins Council suggests SPCA agreement

Staff Reporter

ITHACA — The Tompkins County Council of Governments recommended Thursday that its municipal members approve an interim agreement for animal control with the Tompkins County SPCA while they work to address the cost of animal control.
The agreement would cover the first three months of 2008 at a 50 percent increase in rates and then the council would put out a request for proposals by Jan. 1 for animal control services, with a provider being selected no later than March 1.
“It’s something we can live with,” Abigail Smith, executive director of the Tompkins County SPCA, said Tuesday. “It keeps services in place.”
Smith said the town of Groton, a member of the council, was not involved in the negotiations. Groton contracts for dog control services from Country Acres, owned by Paul and Joyce Burhans in Homer.
Smith said the three-month agreement gives the council and the SPCA a chance to plan for the future, including preparing an emergency preparedness plan that includes sheltering pets and is now required.
Thursday the council also formed a subcommittee to draft the request. The municipalities will also develop a consistent method of portioning out the contracted costs before March 1.
“In the past, the amount paid by each municipality seemed happenstance at best, and the past funding requested of the municipalities and the county was determined by the SPCA,” said Caroline Town Supervisor Don Barber, who chairs the council. “It is unfortunate that the SPCA saw fit in prior years to draw down its reserves prior to approaching the municipalities and the county for additional funding.”
The Council of Governments became involved after the SPCA requested a 100-percent increase in the cost of municipal contracts and county support, exceeding $200,000. Representatives of the council have been meeting with Smith and SPCA board of director members to discuss funding animal control services.
SPCA officials told municipalities the organization had been subsidizing dog control contracts for several years but no longer could do so because there were no more reserve funds.
Smith said the increase was based on the actual cost of the program.
“(The council) is working to develop a plan that will be both humane and in the interest of the taxpayers,” Barber said. “Proposing collaborative approaches to address common municipal issues is the function of the council.”