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State accepts Potsdam’s appeal; Building Blocks project to move forward

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POTSDAM - After initially rejecting the Potsdam’s Central School District’s proposal to renovate the former Building Blocks Day Care to rent to BOCES for a special education program for autistic students, the state Education Department has overturned its decision, allowing the district to move forward with a proposed capital project there.

“There were concerns about separating special education students from the rest of the student population, but we indicated in our appeal that the students would be spending a considerable amount of time in the regular school,” Potsdam Central School Superintendent Patrick H. Brady said, noting students will use district facilities adjacent to the former day care building for physical education, wood shop classes and lunch, where they would be integrated into the overall student population.

Mr. Brady said the district’s appeal was aided by letters from the parents of students who would participate in the program, as well as officials from neighboring districts that would send students to Potsdam for the autism program.

“There was a great deal of support from parents and neighboring school districts for this project,” Mr. Brady said, adding that in addition to writing an appeal, he traveled to Albany to speak with officials with the state Education Department about the project.

Now that the state has overturned its initial decision, Mr. Brady said he would like to move forward as fast as possible to help make up for lost time.

“Now we can proceed with the referendum and project as presented to SED,” he said.

The project, which will come at no cost to the district’s taxpayers includes $350,000 in renovations to the space to make it suitable for the BOCES planned use.

“The state would cover most of the project and the rest would be paid by BOCES, per the lease agreement,” Mr. Brady said.

Mr. Brady said July 22 is currently a tentative date for a project vote, with polls expected to be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

“SED has already shown they have a backlog of projects and we want to get this into the queue as soon as possible,” he said.

Should the project be approved, Mr. Brady said details of the work could be finalized and presented to the state by mid-September, with SED approval coming by March of 2015. Bids for the work would then the solicited in April and awarded in May, with completion expected in time for the start of the 2015-16 school year.

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