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Westmoreland CSD taxpayers express concern over proposed capital improvement project

WESTMORELAND, N.Y.-- As an athlete with a disability, Jason Robinson has made local headlines. He's qualified for national competitions and became the youngest athlete to compete in the Boilermaker wheelchair division.

Posted: Feb 2, 2018 12:28 AM
Updated: Feb 2, 2018 1:34 AM

WESTMORELAND, N.Y.-- As an athlete with a disability, Jason Robinson made local headlines. He's qualified for national competitions and became the youngest athlete to compete in the Boilermaker wheelchair division.

As a freshman at Westmoreland High School, Robinson wants to be able to take a class in every room of the building.

This year, he needed to have an entire class moved to him because of his disability.

"I'm glad that they did move the class for me, so I'm able to be in the class with my peers, but I think that everything should be accessible," Robinson said. "Being in a wheelchair or having a disability, it's already different as it is. There's only stairs down certain wings of the building."

On Thursday, taxpayers will have the opportunity to vote on a $4 million dollar capital improvement project, which includes installing a wheelchair elevator for a wing of the high school currently accessible by stairs only.

"You never know when somebody's going to need to have access to a whole building," Erin Robinson, Jason's mother said. "A teacher could get hurt, a teacher could break their leg. How are they going to get to their classroom?"

The elevator is only part of the multi-million dollar deal.

"Replacement of the fire alarm system in the high school building, installing a bus lift in the bus garage," John Acee, the district's school board president said. "We also need to replace some very old boilers."

There are six pieces of the project in total and the one many taxpayers are frustrated with costs $1.7 million dollars.

"The enhancement part of the project, which is an artificial turf field and lights," Acee said.

Ed Smith is a taxpayer who recently attended an informational session about the project.

He believes the athletic turf field isn't a necessity for taxpayer money to fund.

"It just didn't seem to me that that was a need that should be included with things that truly are a need," Smith said.

New York state's Department of Education approves funding for different fixes as a package, so taxpayers must either reject the entire project, including the elevator, or accept the tax increase.

Though the state will cover more than 75% of the cost, taxpayers will still see a 1% increase, which means something different for every assessed property.

"If you have a lot of land, you're taxed on how much land you have," Smith said.

"Even if Jason didn't use a wheelchair, he's still in the marching band, he's still on the track and field team," Erin Robinson said. "Those improvements alone would be worth voting for."

Acee also responded to concerns from taxpayers that a turf field could cause water pollution and other environmental hazards.

"The studies that we've been presented with really refute that, so we are comfortable with the results of those studies, in that we are safe here," Acee said.

If the project is rejected by voters, school officials can apply for funding from the state using an amended version of the plan. Acee said that approval process could take anywhere from several months to more than a year.

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