Press-Republican

April 6, 2013

School officials: Duken space is needed

By ASHLEIGH LIVINGSTON
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — As Plattsburgh City School District faces another difficult budget season, discussions have emerged on the potential sale of district properties.  

“There’s a lot of property out there that’s just sitting there doing nothing,” Plattsburgh resident Fritz Tobrocke told the School Board at a recent meeting.  “Let’s put it on the tax rolls (and) get some money out of it, get some savings for the rest of us.”

Tobrocke and fellow resident Suzanne Barton urged the board to look into selling the Duken Building, the former Broad Street Elementary School facility that now houses district offices. 

“Maybe you can consolidate offices and put them in other classrooms, “ Barton said. 

In addition, Tobrocke advocated for the sale of a sports practice field located beside the Saranac River down behind the High School. 

“It could be sold,” he told the board. “Condos could be put up.”

FLOOD ZONE

The Press-Republican spoke in a separate interview with City School Superintendent James “Jake” Short about the possibility of selling the district-owned sites.

He said that selling the practice field, which is used by multiple sports teams, is unrealistic because it lies in an annual flood zone. 

“However, longstanding considerations have been given to the concept of the Duken Building,” he said. 

$1.8 MILLION ASSESSMENT

According to the Clinton County Real Property Office, the Duken Building at 49 Broad St. and surrounding land are assessed at $1,879,200. The property measures 3.5 acres.

Because it is School District property, it is tax-exempt.

HOW IT IS USED

The Duken Building currently houses PCSD’s Educational Technology Center, which contains the district’s computer servers, and the Alternative Education and Out of School tutoring programs.

It provides office space for the district’s business, special-education, and buildings, grounds and transportation officials; the superintendent; a nurse practitioner; and a part-time employee who collects information data required by the state. 

The location is also used to coordinate the district’s homeschooling program, the Project CONNECT after-school program and the Community Health Partnership Grant with SUNY Plattsburgh. 

In addition, the Duken Building contains a conference room used by staff and School Board members, storage space for the district’s long-term records and voting machines, and an office that is leased to the Plattsburgh City School District Federal Credit Union. 

The building’s gym is used in the evenings by a variety of groups, including Project CONNECT and an adult yoga program, Short said. It’s also the venue of School Board meetings, the district art show and various presentations and workshops.

LITTLE SPARE SPACE

While moving the Educational Technology Center would be somewhat difficult due to computer-server requirements, Short said, it would be possible to relocate the contents of the Duken Building, if space were available elsewhere in the district. 

However, he noted, such space would have to be constructed, as the return of special-education services to the district has left many buildings at capacity. 

“Most buildings have almost none or are very compromised with what storage space they have,” he said. 

Short believes any capital funds should be used to create resources for students, not solely to build office space. 

“I just don’t think that’s a good use of taxpayer money,” he said. 

Besides, Short noted, maintaining an existing building is far less expensive than constructing new offices.

Still, he said, capital improvements will need to be done in the future, and such projects could free up space.

“I do think there will be a time and a place when we can make some of those moves,” he said. 

INCREASING ENROLLMENT

Also to be considered, according to Short, is whether the Duken Building could be needed for educational space to accommodate future enrollment increases. 

Momot Elementary, he noted, is more or less filled to capacity, serving 420 students as of October 2012. By 2017-18, the school’s enrollment is projected at 524 students. 

And district-wide enrollment, which was 1,882 last October, is projected to increase to 2,099 over the next five years.

If these numbers hold true, Short said, one possibility could be to use the Duken Building for preschool classes in addition to offices.

 ‘KNEE-JERK REACTION’

However, until there is a clearly defined direction for the building, Short believes it wouldn’t be wise to sell it. 

Even selling a parcel of the land surrounding the building, which includes a public playground that is not heavily used, he added, could make it difficult to sell the remaining property in the future.

“Actions like this are best done through connective thinking and not as knee-jerk reaction,” Short said. “Over the years, offices and student programs have moved building’s and space was repurposed, (and) I’m sure the future has more of this in store.”

Short added he has and will continue to seek grant funding for a building study to look at consolidation opportunities within the district, as well as the potential for merging with another district.

Email Ashleigh Livingston:alivingston@pressrepublican.com