The Southern Cayuga CSD Planetarium
The SCCS Planetarium was constructed in the spring of 1968 at an initial cost of $166,000. New York State paid over 95% of the initial construction cost, approximately $157,700, while the seven school districts of Cayuga County contributed $1,030 each. The actual cost of construction to the Southern Cayuga community was only $155, as 87% of the local expense was actually paid by the New York State Department of Education. The Southern Cayuga CSD owned the building at a final cost to the district of $155.
As recently as 2005, the Cayuga Onondaga BOCES operated the planetarium. The CO BOCES provided area schools access to quality programming and provided staffing. The operational and staffing costs were shared among the school districts of Cayuga County and were offset by the collection of fees and federal grants. In 2005, BOCES discontinued their operation of the planetarium and Southern Cayuga CSD appointed John Rusho as interim planetarium director. The Southern Cayuga CSD agreed to maintain programming, to oversee operations, and bear the cost of operating this unique educational facility. Programming costs have been offset by grants, fees, and the collection of donations but since the economic downturn in 2008, these funding sources have dramatically decreased.
Currently, the Southern Cayuga Board of Education is discussing the future of the planetarium as the cost of repair to the building is significant. Most operational systems are at the end of their useful life. The projected cost of repair is nearly $600,000, which includes a new roof, masonry repairs, electrical upgrades, and extensive boiler & HVAC replacements. Unfortunately, construction costs for the planetarium are not eligible for state funding and would require local taxpayers to fund the entire project. Eligibility for building projects is based on daily student occupancy of interior instructional space and the planetarium has not met that threshold.
The lack of state aid for repair costs to the planetarium has been an ongoing point of discussion within the district for the past decade. The SCCS facilities committee continues to meet on a monthly basis to discuss infrastructure needs, constantly reviewing the five year SCCS building conditions survey and to seek the advice of outside experts. In 2010, the district facilities committee presented a capital project plan that included renovations to the planetarium of approximately $359,000. As the overall costs of the entire project were nearly $10 million, and based upon feedback from community members, the Board reduced the scope of work to $9,558,000 which did not include the planetarium repairs. The $9.5 million capital project proposition that went to the voters was defeated in March 2011 by a nearly 2-1 margin. The Board then further reduced the scope of the project, and in October 2011, presented two propositions to the community. A $5.6 million project that was approved by voters (59% in favor) and a smaller gym project, which was not eligible for state aid, was defeated. The 2011 project was completed during the summers of 2012 and 2013.
The SCCS facilities committee has continued to explore options for the planetarium that might make the project eligible for state aid. The district considered building a classroom wing to attach the planetarium to the high school, use the planetarium classroom for offices, or to create a distance learning classroom. Each option adversely impacted traffic patterns, was considered costly, and/or did not qualify for state aid. The district remains open to considering future possibilities for the planetarium.
District voters recently approved a capital improvement project in May 2014 (71%) which did not include repairs to the planetarium, as they remain cost prohibitive. This project, slated for construction next summer, is eligible for state building aid of approximately 81.2% percent, so four-fifths of the total cost of the project will be covered by state building aid.
In light of an aging campus, it is critical for the district to maximize aid received from the state and to carefully choose which upgrades and repairs that our community can afford. A primary goal of the Board of Education has been to maintain a neutral debt service, which stabilizes our current level of expense in regards to these payments. The challenge facing the Board of Education is prioritizing needs while demonstrating fiscal restraint. An anticipated future project will be the replacement of the roof on the elementary school wing, which will occur in the next 5-10 years.
As a district, difficult decisions continue to be made as we plan for future needs. The planetarium will close shortly for the winter as the boiler no longer functions. The Board of Education welcomes community input and assistance finding alternate funding sources.