FEMA commits to a new Owego Elementary

By Kelly McCarthy

September 9, 2013 Updated Sep 9, 2013 at 11:13 PM EDT

Owego, NY (WBNG Binghamton) The Owego Apalachin School District is finally approved to start construction on a new elementary school after 18 months of negotiating with the federal government.

But the project will also require a nod of approval from the public.

Last week the district received written confirmation from the Federal Emergency Management Agency promising to fund 85 to 90 percent of the new building.

FEMA will not pay for a new auditorium, a geothermal system, and two of the three large instructional spaces because they were not included in the old building. That means they're seen as improvements rather than replacements.

The remaining cost -- approximately $11 million -- will be funded by the New York State Department of Education and money saved in the district's capital reserves.

"The level of detailed work of all sorts that goes into a project like this," said Dr. Bill Russell, superintendent of Owego Apalachin School District, "When you overlay the FEMA requirements on top of it has been rather daunting and rather time consuming. We're two years after the flood and we still haven't broken ground on a new building, but that's about to change and we're pretty excited about that."

The new building will be funded as a FEMA replacement project instead of an improvement project.

"Which means they will take a look at the bids as we award them and adjust the amount of their funding," Russell said, "Specifically to the bid awards rather than to some estimate or with some sort of cap on funding."

Bids are currently out for the first two phases and are due on Oct.1.

There will be a referendum on Oct. 22 for voters to decide the $11 million of funding from the district. Most of that will be reimbursed by the state.

The rest will be covered by the district's reserves and will not require a tax increase, Russell said.

"We're building a brand new elementary school to replace the one that was lost with no new taxes," Russell said, "That's a really critical piece for the people in this community, or for any community."

If the bidding process goes as planned, the district expects to start construction as early as Oct. 25. The project is expected to take two years to complete.