Durham Building Donation - Questions & Answers

About

The Cairo-Durham Central School District is pursuing a unique opportunity toDurham building front revitalize the former Durham Elementary School building in partnership with Questar III BOCES.

If approved by district voters on June 9, 2020, the District would be authorized to donate the Durham building to Questar III for the purpose of establishing a regional education center. (Note: Absentee ballots can be accepted in person until 5 p.m. on June 9, and by mail until 5 p.m. on June 16.)

A community forum to share information with Cairo-Durham residents was planned for April 27, however it was canceled due to the ongoing public health situation and NYS on PAUSE restrictions that limit large in-person gatherings. 

Questions & Answers

Updated June 9, 2020

Didn’t the taxpayers in the community approve a large amount of money in the 2018-2019 school budget for improvement?

No, the funds approved by voters in December 2018 were for a capital improvement project and separate from the General Fund Budget. Voters approved funding for a capital improvement project not to exceed $28,935,000 (with approximately 64% State Aid reimbursement). The project included the construction of a garage on the east side of the Durham building that would be used to support Questar’s Heavy Equipment program. The additional Durham maintenance and repair items identified in the Building Condition Survey were not included in the capital project proposal. It was later discovered that the District could not receive Building Aid on the garage, making the entire cost of this portion of the project fall on local taxpayers. This discovery led to discussions between the District and Questar regarding the building donation and expansion of Questar’s educational programming. Questar would be able to perform improvements at Durham and spread the cost across the region. For example, Cairo-Durham taxpayers could pay $100,000 for improvements, but if Questar owns the building then the costs of improvement would be split between 22 component districts. This forms the basis of the proposition to donate the Durham building to Questar.

How will Questar III BOCES use the building?

If the donation is approved by voters, Questar III BOCES would transform the former elementary school into a regional educational center. They would use the building to expand career and technical education (CTE) programs and special education programs for students across the region. Questar III’s Heavy Equipment Operation and Maintenance program is currently held in the Durham building. Additional CTE programs and adult certificate programs that meet the needs of Greene County would also be explored (e.g., Culinary Arts, Hospitality).

In the following video, learn about Questar III's background and vision for the Durham building from District Superintendent, Dr. Gladys I. Cruz:

 

Why did the board decide it would not consider selling the building to a private group?

The sale to a private group would decrease the remaining state Building Aid the District is receiving by the sale price amount. If we donate the building to Questar, the District would continue to receive Aid payments in the future.

Will the community still have access to the building?

Yes, the District has communicated to Questar III the importance of continued community access to the facilities at Durham. Residents and community groups would be able to use the building/grounds as long as it does not interfere with Questar III’s operation of educational programs. The facilities request process would go through Questar III rather than Cairo-Durham, however we can include that information on the district website. Also, the District would continue to use the property free of charge as its bus fleet fuel hub.

What is the benefit of donating the building to Questar III?

One benefit is that the District would save approximately $100,000 per year on operational costs. Also, our students would gain access to hands-on programming within the district and operational costs would be shared across the BOCES region. Questar III would assume regular operational costs as well as the long-term rehab costs to potentially address the repair and maintenance issues identified in the 2017 Building Condition Survey, which total nearly $3 million.

Furthermore, the District believes that donating the building to Questar III is more beneficial to the community than putting it up for sale to interested buyers. If the District sold the building, it would be up to the new owners to decide what it would be used for. By donating it to Questar III, we can ensure the Durham building will continue to be used as an educational facility for students throughout the region.

What repairs were identified in the Building Condition Survey?

A 2017 Building Condition Survey performed by Mosaic Associates identified nearly $3 million of needed repairs and maintenance at Durham. Examples include exterior wall repair (estimated $250,000), parapet repair (estimated $425,000), pavement reconstruction (estimated $615,000) and roof replacement (estimated $350,000). Some of these cost estimates may be higher than when they were provided in 2017.

What is the current lease agreement between Questar and Cairo-Durham?

We currently charge rent to Questar III in the amount of $57,500 per year to use part of the building for its Heavy Equipment program. This rent is for the use of two classrooms in the building and the garage. Questar III pays rent based on a “per classroom” amount of $11,500. The garage is considered to be the equivalent of three classrooms (based on average square footage).

Why donate the building instead of continuing to charge rent?

Although the District would lose this rental revenue if the building is donated, it would save approximately $100,000 per year in regular operating expenses (e.g., heat, electricity, snow removal). These operational costs would be transferred to Questar III. They would also assume the long-term rehab costs to potentially address needed repairs and maintenance identified in the 2017 Building Condition Survey.

Additionally, donating it to Questar III ensures the Durham building would maintain its purpose as a school. It would create the possibility for additional educational opportunities in our community that the District is not able to provide. However, the expansion of educational programming at Durham would require this donation as Questar III currently does not have plans to lease additional space in the building.

Why can’t we reopen Durham as an elementary school?

In addition to declining enrollment, the District is unable to utilize the Durham building as a full service elementary school due to insufficient staff. It would require additional expenses related to employee salaries and benefits. A higher increase in the tax levy would be required to help fund these needs. Additionally, the Durham building requires millions of dollars in repairs and maintenance that would have to be addressed in the long term (see above).

What happens if Questar III no longer wants the building?

As part of the agreement, the District would maintain “right of first refusal.” This means that if Questar III no longer needs or uses the Durham building, they would be required to offer it back to the District at no cost (including no repayment of the cost of any capital improvements that Questar III may make to the building).

What will happen to all the furniture/items that have been stored in the Durham building?

The District will go room to room to evaluate the potential use for all items in the building. Items that are in good shape will be sent to either CDE or CDMS/HS. Some items will be scrapped and some items will be placed on a bid through Delaware-Chenango-Madison-Otsego BOCES. DCMO BOCES has a staff that is dedicated to procurement for school districts. As part of this service, Cairo-Durham can provide the DCMO BOCES team an inventory of surplus equipment that DCMO will advertise and put to bid on a national level. Utilizing this service allows the District to receive top dollar for items no longer needed. Click here for more information.

Will Cairo-Durham students be given top priority or discounts for the programs offered by Questar?

No, Questar III cannot provide priority or discounts to local school districts per state law and must treat all local school districts equally. As a result, Cairo-Durham students would not receive special preference, just as there is no priority or discount offered to the local district students at the educational centers in Hudson and Troy (or other district locations used by the BOCES within the region). Program costs are proportional to the amount of the number of students each school district sends to BOCES.

What if additional space is needed to ensure proper social distancing when schools reopen?

Social distancing, among other things, is on our list of concerns and considerations as we begin developing a plan to reopen our school buildings. While utilizing space in the Durham building seems like a good option, we do not have enough staff to manage this (e.g., principals, school nurses, food services). Unfortunately, the District lacks the budgetary means to increase staffing to the extent it would be needed.

What happens if the proposition is defeated?

Questar III would continue to rent space for the Heavy Equipment program but currently does not have plans to lease additional classroom space.

When and how will the public vote occur?

The vote will occur on Tuesday, June 9, 2020. In the interest of public safety due to the COVID-19 pandemic, voting this year will take place using absentee ballots only, per Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order. Every eligible voter will receive an absentee ballot and a postage paid return envelope in the mail. Click here for more information on voting by absentee ballot.

What if I have a question not answered here?

If you have other questions, please submit them using this form. School leaders will do their best to provide answers for all community questions.