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Carthage schools project vote set for Wednesday

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GREAT BEND — For more than a year, the Carthage Central School District has been amending its proposed capital construction project — now up to $34.5 million — to add on to several buildings, relocate administrative offices and alternative education facilities and address maintenance issues in all school buildings.

Now residents will decide whether to support the project in a vote from noon to 9 p.m. Wednesday in the Carthage High School library.

As pieces of the project were unveiled throughout the year, it has been met with both approval and disdain.

Board of Education President Michael P. Chevier said he believes the project is important for the district because the number of students is expected to spike in the next few years.

“As the war on terrorism draws down, all the troops are coming back,” he said, referring to the presence of Fort Drum families. “We’re going to be busting at the seams pretty soon.”

He said the graduating class at Carthage High School is about 210 students. The sophomore class is slightly bigger at 234 students. He noted that both the first and fourth grades have more than 290 pupils enrolled.

As part of the project, Carthage Elementary School will have new classroom additions and one of the cafeterias will be transformed into a multi-use education space. Carthage High School will have a new science wing.

“It might be selfish, but I’m hoping the science wing sparks a young mind to enter the medical field and find a cure for cancer one day,” Mr. Chevier said.

However, these additions and improvements come at a cost to the taxpayer: $16.12 annually for the next 17 years for the average household, starting in 2014.

At the May 22 meeting, former board member John E. Peck calculated he would pay about $150 annually because he owns a dairy farm.

“I have some reservations about this project,” he said. “I can’t support it. I can’t afford it.”

About 94 percent of the project is eligible for state aid and the district can use up to $1.9 million in state aid from Expanding our Children’s Education and Learning, or EXCEL. The money can be used for physical capacity expansion, handicapped accessibility, technology, energy and health and safety.

“Like any homeowner knows, we want to do this while the interest rate is down,” Mr. Chevier said.

He understands the project might have its share of naysayers, but he believes it’s what’s best for the district as enrollment projections rise.

“We need to understand what message we’re sending to the kids, the future generation,” he said. “Are we saying that turf fields and pools are more important than expanding education? You’re looking at a system that, over the next 20 to 30 years, the taxpayers aren’t going to have to worry about.”

A video about the project can be found at www.carthagecsd.org/videos.cfm?vid=10101.

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