Ulster County lawmaker urges Kingston district to use local union labor for $137.5 million high school project

Ulster County lawmaker urges Kingston district to use local union labor for $137.5 million high school project

KINGSTON >> Ulster County Legislator David Donaldson is urging the Kingston school district to reconsider its rejection of a commitment to use local labor on its $137.5 million renovation of Kingston High School.

The Board of Education recently voted 5-4 to reject such a committment, with several school trustees saying that union labor leaders had threatened the district during discussions over the question.

In a letter to school board members on Friday, Donaldson, D-Kingston, who was vice chairman of the Legislature in 2014, said a project labor agreement “assures project stability, efficiency and productivity by giving a broader management rights provision, full trades’ commitment to the project, and provisions that increase contractor flexibility,” he said.

Donaldson also stated that the “real savings may come from your ability to extend an application for a Wicks Law exemption.”

The Wicks Law is a New York state law that requires school districts to use separate contractors for diffent elements of school construction. Critics say the requirement complicates coordination of complex projects and drives up costs.

The lawmaker said a Wicks Law exemption could translate to a savings of up to 6 percent, as much as $11 million. “This may not be attractive to those that charge a percentage based on the cost of the project, but it certainly may be attractive to those of us paying the bill.”

The Board of Education last month voted to reject funding of a study $24,440 study of whether an agreement to have only union contracts for the project would save the district money.

Trustees Priscilla Lowe, Kathleen Collins, Robin Jacobowitz and James Shaughnessy favored the study, while Danielle Guido, James Michael, the Rev. James Childs, Scherer and the Rev. Arthur Coston were opposed.

Several board members said meetings with union representatives included threats that inflatable rats would accompany pickets if the district did not sign an agreement.

The renovation project, approved by Kingston school district voters a year ago, will addd 181,400 square feet to the KHS campus’ Salzmann building, create new entrances to the Kate Walton Field House and raze the Myron J. Michael Building, a former junior high school that now is part of the high school campus, as well as the Whiston-Tobin Building. A new bus drop-off area and student entrance would be built in roughly the same area as the Michael building, which would be demolished in the summer of 2018.

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Related content:

“Kingston school board halts consideration of union pact for high school renovation,” Dec. 10, 2014 

“Kingston Board of Education ponders pact with unions for high school renovations,” Nov. 19, 2014

“Kingston school trustees consider labor pact governing high school renovation,” Oct. 2, 2014.