HARVARD -- Most of the questions posed by the Capital Planning and Investment Committee in its review of the School Committee's fiscal 2015 capital budget request concerned the proposed renovation of Bromfield science labs, interim Superintendent Joseph Connelly told the board when he presented a revised request
After some discussion during the course of its three-hour meeting, the board agreed to have Connelly draft another revision, with more details.
There were a lot of questions about the project, said school board member and CPIC Chairman Keith Cheveralls. But that wasn't surprising, given the steep cost estimate and a report that lacked key explanatory elements such as why cabinetry and furniture were included in a price tag driven by safety concerns rather than a simple update to the labs.
Chairwoman Susan Mary Redinger, noting the "conflict" of serving on separate boards with different missions, said she hoped Cheveralls would continue to champion the cause from the School Committee's slant. "That's why you're there," she said.
While conceding the challenge of wearing two hats, Cheveralls said the questions the School Committee was being asked came from everyone on the CPIC, not any one member and were generated by a generic protocol for all requests, not just this one. "We don't want to approach any project with blinders on," he said, and it would be "incredibly helpful" to the other board to have these questions answered.
He couldn't say whether the CPIC would recommend favorably in its report to the Finance Committee, Cheveralls said.
Although CPIC had a renovation plan on its long-range radar, the $2 million price tag was apparently a shocker, with just $280,000 penciled in for the project, including $180,000 for HVAC upgrades to address safety issues in the designated rooms, one of which has no heat while others are not properly ventilated for lab experiments, Connolly said. However, he said costs could be cherry-picked for a "phased in" project if there's a need to do so, even if the overall costs are higher as a result.
The cost estimate for the construction and design phase is $210,000, which breaks down as follows: $115,000 for design development, $10,500 for the public bid process and $84,000 for construction administration. $1.7 million was ticketed for new cabinetry to safely store chemicals and other lab equipment and furniture. Moveable lab desks, in particular, versus existing units, which are permanently attached. The "stable" tables cause traffic jams that teachers say are safety issues with more than 20 students in the room, Connolly explained.
But any or all of those costs could go up with the market, over time, member Patty Wenger pointed out, so why wait?
Details absent from the current request would be included in the new revision, the board agreed, along with answers to all of the CPIC's questions.
For example, other questions targeted re-doing the gymnasium floor, painting and purchasing two new School Department vehicles, a dump truck and a van or truck for the Food Service Department.
But there's a deal in the works to swap out a couple of used but still usable town-owned vehicles for the purpose, potentially trimming the budget by $90,000.
"The DPW has two vehicles we could use," Cheveralls said. Both of the vehicles are due to be mothballed, with only about two years of life left for hefty highway jobs. But with lighter use, the life span could be extended another three years. They can be expected to last for five years, he said. "It only makes sense."
Asked what would happen if the capital funding request fails, Connolly said administrators feel it's vital to renovate the science labs as soon as possible and would make "concessions" and "compromises" to get most of the work done.
As for the $90,000 take-out for the vehicles, Connolly and Cheveralls were fairly confident that part of the plan would pass muster.
The schools' new capital plan also removes a major Bromfield House renovation that could have added another $686,000 to the total. But although the School Department has agreed to give up the old building, which the town will most likely demolish, Cheveralls said selectmen shouldn't schedule the moving vans just yet, at least not until the School Department finds an
alternative annex that's still close to the schools for central-office operations.
Connolly agreed. Community Education and Bridges might be comfortably housed and functional off campus, he said, but the central office, including Special Education Department offices, must be centrally located.
Citing energy-saving moves that were originally part of the capital plan but were put on hold, such as weatherizing and lighting, Cheveralls said the audit report that shows energy use went up -- heating costs, for example, rose by 50 percent from last year -- doesn't address possible "underlying causes" that building renovations might fix. Therefore, the recommendation was to defer those items, he said, and the Energy Advisory Committee concurs.