After debate, Nov. 6 vote set on $2.5 million Telstar project
After a lengthy discussion Monday, the School Board voted 12-2 to send a $2.5 million capital improvement project for the Telstar complex to voters on Nov. 6.
The work, which would improve air quality and energy efficiency, would be funded through two sources: $1.2 million that has been raised in taxes and set aside by voters in recent years for that purpose, and $1.3 million in a 0 percent interest loan from the state.
Under the loan approval, the money must be committed to the project by the end of this year.
The project has been studied and under consideration for about a year. The Honeywell company earlier this year did a $15,000 energy audit of the building.
To illustrate the ventilation problems, Honey-
well engineer Bob Marcotte Monday described how he had used smoke to test the motion of air in the 40-plus-year-old ventilation system. Of 45 ventilation units located throughout the building, he said,
only two were bringing in air.
To compensate, teachers have been asked to crack windows, even during the winter, to ensure enough fresh air in classrooms full of students.
At the same time, however, air has also been entering the building in uncontrolled places, such as under the eaves.
Both circumstances translate to lost heat.
As part of the energy audit, Honeywell presented five options for addressing the ventilation and energy efficiency issues, some focusing more on one than the other.
One of the options, known as Option 3, would provide the best air quality.
But it would also bring more air into the building in the winter and cool the complex more than the other options, thus requiring more energy to maintain a comfortable temperature.
To try to offset the energy costs needed to compensate, the board’s Facilities Committee asked Honeywell last month to draw up an Option 6, which would add to Option 3 a more cost-effective source of heat: a wood pellet boiler. But the total cost of the project would then be $3.2 million – too much for the $2.5 million budget.
Supt. Dave Murphy said the board had two choices: proceed with the referendum for $2.5 million, and apply later for a stand-alone second loan to do the wood boiler, or give the money back to the state and reapply next year for a larger amount to cover all of the work as a single project.
Applying with the hope of getting a loan again, said Murphy, “would be a roll of the dice.”
And if the new loan application were unsuccessful, the district would have to borrow money with interest in order to do the project.
Under the current 0 percent loan, an estimated $200,000 in interest payments is saved on the $2.5 million figure.
Timing of decision
Some directors voiced concerns that they might be making a hurried decision.
Because of difficulty in getting the Facilities Committee together for meetings this summer, as well as late questions from the SAD 44 attorney about technical aspects of the project, the committee did not have a recommendation for directors Monday. Instead, they sought the views of the whole board.
Committee Chair Tim Akers of Andover framed the issue from his perspective: “Is it worth saving $200,000, or holding off to make sure we’re making the right decision?”
Fellow committee member Tim Carter of Bethel said fixing the building was important. “If one person on one side of the room is roasting, and one on the other side is freezing, that’s not conducive to learning,” he said.
Marcel Polak of Woodstock said he was uncomfortable making a decision without a complete recommendation from the committee.
Board Chair Lainey Cross of Bethel said she also felt some uncertainty because she felt not all options had been weighed thoroughly.
But, she said, “the equipment is in very bad shape and does need replacement. If I had a choice of what to vote for today, I’d probably vote for Option 3.”
Director Frank Delduca of Bethel was skeptical about a Nov. 6 vote.
“If I’m representing the people who live in Bethel, I think they would want more definitive answers than what we’re doing.”
But Director Dick Melville of Greenwood said now is the time to act.
“I think we can’t afford to lose this money, and we don’t know if we can get it next year. We need to do what’s in Number 3,” he said.
Tammy Goodwin of Greenwood agreed, saying she had heard from families of students concerned about the air quality in the school.
Director Deb Webster of Newry asked the Honeywell representatives if doing a separate wood boiler project later would create overlap in work and costs.
Jim Lucy said there would be little overlap.
Webster said the board could justify the project because the air quality and energy pieces are separate enough.
“I think those two projects have a different enough focus that it would not feel like it was incomplete that we are making a decision,” she said. “We have this much money right now, and we are choosing to focus on air quality. And later, if we get more money, we can choose to focus on more energy efficiency.”
Marcotte also said that with the computer technology available to control air intake, Maintenance Supervisor Ron Deegan could bring the energy loss due to ventilation nearly to zero by making adjustments when rooms were scheduled to be unoccupied.
“From the discussions I’ve had with Ron, he’s eager to have that, and will use it,” said Marcotte.
As most directors appeared to settle on Option 3, Murphy noted that the district would benefit financially from the fact that in 2014, SAD 44 will finish paying off the Crescent Park Elementary School. Annual payments have averaged $250,000.
Paying back the project loan under Option 3 over 15 years would impact the budget by about $100,000 a year.
The board eventually voted to approve a ballot question for voters “to consider authorizing a performance contract project with a total project cost not to exceed $2,500,000, and authorizing not more than $1,300,000 of the total project cost to be financed and the balance to be derived from the district’s existing capital reserve and/or other fund balances.”
Keith Smith of Andover and Delduca voted in opposition.
Murphy said that while Option 3 is not specifically included on the referendum question, the understanding is the board supports it.
By not locking the option in with a board vote, directors would have the chance to adjust details in the plan within the funding allowed, after an engineering study is completed early in the project.
A public hearing will be scheduled in October, with Honeywell representatives present.
If the project is approved, work would likely start in April, with substantial completion by late next summer.