Rome Free Academy’s 2020 commencement ceremony in June is unlikely to be affected if a proposed RFA Stadium repair project is approved for work to begin next year, said school district Superintendent Peter C. Blake.
“I don’t think graduation will be affected....I really don’t think it’s going to be an issue,” Blake said Tuesday night at a public forum on a $14.2 million bonding referendum vote to be held Dec. 18 for a capital project including work at RFA Stadium plus several schools. He later said he was “98% certain” it would not be affected.
Responding to audience questions about possible graduation ceremony impacts, Blake said the district could “wait until after graduation to start replacing the field,” regarding replacement of RFA Stadium’s worn track and artificial turf under the proposed project. Outlining a “very aggressive” schedule for having new turf by next fall if a process including state reviews and contract approvals follows a “best-case scenario,” Blake said turf replacement usually takes less than seven or eight weeks; that could leave enough time to finish if that work occurred after the June 27 RFA commencement.
In the event of a “worst-case” situation if for some reason the project made RFA Stadium unavailable, “we’d probably work with the county to see if we could use Utica Auditorium” which would provide an alternative venue that is large enough, Blake told the audience. If the Dec. 18 public bonding referendum vote is successful, the district would start preparing in January to set a potential back-up venue if needed, he added. Use of the Utica Auditorium is the likely “Plan B” that would be sought, he added after the forum.
About 10 people plus several officials involved in the proposed capital project attended the forum at the RFA small auditorium. Another forum about the project will be Dec. 16 at 6 p.m. at the same location.
Concerns about the project’s potential impact on next June’s RFA graduation were publicly expressed over a week ago by parent Lucy Rizzo, whose daughter Erika Rizzo is one of the Class of 2020’s academic leaders. Blake at that time said it was premature to determine where graduation would be held, since the referendum vote had not even occurred. He also had said the first plan would be to work the construction schedule around the graduation, with the district’s team “fairly confident” that may happen.
When asked after Tuesday’s forum why he now felt 98% certain of no graduation ceremony impact, Blake said he has had further discussions about the project with architectural and construction management companies working with the school district.
Besides the RFA Stadium repairs, the proposed $14.2 million capital project also calls for work at RFA school including some new roofing, installation of flashing to prevent roof and ceiling leaks, and electrical system upgrades; energy-performance contract work including improved mechanical systems and lighting upgrades to reduce energy costs, with various portions affecting all district schools except for Staley Elementary School, where a potential replacement of the building is being considered.
The project would have a zero percent net tax impact on school district households, according to the district. Project costs would be reimbursed by state aid at an approximately 96 percent rate, said Blake, plus he presented financial projections showing that average annual local-share payments over a 15-year period would be more than offset by estimated yearly energy savings.
Citing the “benefit of being an energy-inefficient school district” currently, Blake said the project including the energy-performance contract work was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” which “can offset work that needs to get done now.”
Among questions from the audience:
• Rizzo and Jaclyn Mattacola, who is a teacher and parent, asked about potential graduation impact details.
Rizzo also asked why the district was "pushing for the work so quickly" including a December vote. She said she was "all for the improvements" proposed in the project, but asked why such an aggressive deadline.
Blake said getting the project approved in December, rather than holding a vote as part of the district's annual May election, can "start the ball rolling...possible turf replacement by September" and also moves up the timing for fixing other significant issues including RFA roof areas. It "buys us a year of getting it done sooner," he added.
• The referendum ballot also will include a proposition to establish a capital reserve, involving a 10-year fund not to exceed $5 million to help pay for future capital projects; it would be funded through year-end surplus amounts.
Asking about that proposal was Mike Deraway, a district teacher assistant and coach, who wondered if it could be used for fixes "today." Blake said the reserve would relate to future capital projects.
Deraway also suggested the district seek to schedule fall sports teams that use the stadium to have the first half of their 2020 seasons be "away" games, which would "buy you time" if needed to get new turf ready. Blake said it is common for districts to do so, and "could happen."
• Parent John Sorbello asked that the project bidding process include specifying a date for contractors to start the RFA Stadium work after graduation.
Blake noted the schedule to get the stadium turf replaced by next fall involved a "pretty aggressive plan" including getting project plans approved by the state Education Department prior to seeking contract bids. He also said samples of the field would be taken including reviewing below the surface area to see if it is alright. He said there conceivably could be a situation where project representatives may say they "absolutely have to shut the stadium down," but added "I don't see that happening."
• Riccardo Dursi, a teacher, asked about making sure roof leaks at RFA are fully addressed. Blake said he hopes teachers are spoken to by construction managers regarding the work, adding "if not...let us know."