PLATTSBURGH — The Plattsburgh City School District Board of Education voted Thursday night to award the Webb Island Footbridge repair project to Luck Bros. Inc., a big step toward ending the walkway's almost two-year-long closure.
"I'm glad to see that this repair project is going forward," board member Fred Wachtmeister Jr. said during discussions on the resolution.
State Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) and Assemblyman D. Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay) had previously secured $400,000 and $50,000, respectively, toward footbridge repairs, and Clinton County has pledged $50,000 toward maintenance over 10 years.
But the lowest bid for the project — submitted by Luck Brothers — came in at $510,000, so the district had to come up with additional funds.
Superintendent of Schools Jay Lebrun gives some credit to District Treasurer Kristina LaDuke for advancing the idea of bringing in capital outlay funding.
Capital outlay projects are aid-eligible through the State Education Department and do not require voter approval, but cannot exceed $100,000.
Additionally, Lebrun pointed out at the board meeting, at least 10 percent of the work covered by the project must take place within the district's buildings.
"In fact, only $90,000 of that $100,000 capital outlay project can be directed to the footbridge, just based on that bit of nuanced regulation from the State Education Department."
Still, the total funding should just cover the repairs, he said, with costs divided into sub-budgets of $450,000 and $90,000, effectively separating Luck Bros. Inc.'s original bid into two projects.
The board's vote Thursday approved the first at a bid of $425,065, contingent upon conditions such as final review by Bernier, Carr & Associates (BCA), the district's architecture and engineering firm.
"The work which will be the basis of the capital outlay project will include concrete pier repairs, chain link fencing repairs and replacement, and site restoration," Lebrun said.
Since the district will use this year's capital outlay funding for the footbridge, other small, planned projects will have to be deferred.
"Re-carpeting the PHS (Plattsburgh High School) library, re-carpeting the PHS auditorium 'pit' area, repairing some dated acoustical wall panels in the PHS auditorium and introducing a small canopy on the side of Bailey Avenue Elementary are recurring requests," Lebrun told the Press-Republican Friday.
Wachtmeister commented during the meeting that this shows the board and district administration have placed the importance of the bridge above other things.
"I think that, in a sense, is a reflection of the service that the district sees itself as providing to the community."
Wachtmeister brought up security of the bridge, given the recurring problem of people cutting through the chain link fencing to get onto it despite its closure.
Assistant Superintendent for Business David Baroody said the district has received quotes for steel fence barriers — which would allow them to lock up the bridge at any time — and cameras which would go on both sides of the bridge.
Lebrun said costs for the fencing and cameras would not be covered by the repair funds, since the bids came in over projections.
"If we proceed with these (additions), it will be paid for through the general fund."
Currently, the school's resource officer monitors the bridge prior to when school begins each day, and both SUNY Plattsburgh University Police and Plattsburgh City Police make rounds at both ends throughout the day.
So far, no one has been caught in the act of breaking onto the bridge, but Baroody said most incidents seem to occur on weekends during the hours between 11 p.m. and dawn.
Lebrun said the district expects that $70,000 of the $100,000 capital outlay project will come back in building aid, meaning the district will ultimately contribute $30,000.
"Those are estimates based upon our district's building aid rate," he explained.
"Specific aid rates change slightly from year to year, but ours generally hovers around 69 to 70 percent."
Lebrun noted to the board that the $30,000 they anticipate paying is far less than the expected cost of demolishing the bridge.
"This is the next in a series of commitments that I think this group — you all — have made to returning that piece of municipal infrastructure to public service."
Board member Robert Hall Jr. asked if the pipeline that runs along the top of the footbridge has been or will be removed.
The pipeline has been clamped, meaning no gas is running through it, Baroody said.
New York State Electric and Gas was waiting on the district to make the next move.
"The direction we’ve been given is, in this case, Luck Bros. would be awarded the bid and then we would put Luck Bros. in communication with NYSEG and they would work together as reconstruction takes place to remove the piping," Baroody said.
He added that Luck Bros. Inc. has told Mike Harris, the BCA district's representative, that it was confident construction could wrap up before winter.
Hall and fellow board member Steve Krieg remarked that most of the people who have approached them about reopening the bridge have been community members, not students or parents.
And the level of district-subsidized student ridership of Clinton County Public Transportation buses during colder months reinforces that it is not a large number of students who use the bridge, Lebrun said.
Ridership varied, but he believes it ranged from seven to 10 students daily.
"But we’ve also seen there are some for whom that is an important pedestrian pathway," Lebrun said.
"I agree with that," board member Ronald Marino — the resolution's lone "nay" voter — chimed in.
"It is an important pedestrian pathway — that is not associated with the district."
Lebrun told the Press-Republican Friday that the district does not have a figure for the total cost of the project, since the architectural/engineering fees are not fully known.
However, the combined construction work will be $510,000 — based on Luck Bros. initial bid — and BCA has indicated its fees will not bring costs above the sum of the politician-secured funds and the capital outlay project.
Luck Bros. Inc. informed BCA that it would mobilize quickly once the board awarded the bid, Lebrun said.
"Naturally, we'd like said mobilization to begin as soon as possible. We expect to hear the specifics of the construction milestone schedule within the coming days."
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