2017-10-12 / Front Page

Duva: School fixes won’t total $16M

Number bandied in state report far more than what’s needed
BY TIM RIEL

A collective groan echoed through school districts from Westerly to Woonsocket after the state released its comprehensive infrastructure report in September, revealing daunting numbers to every city and town in Rhode Island.

According to the study by Jacobs Engineering, the estimated cost to bring public schools to ideal conditions is a whopping $2.2 billion, including $628 million in crucial repairs to keep them warm, dry and safe. Roughly $16 million of that concerned Lawn and Melrose schools.

Town officials, however, are cautioning taxpayers to keep calm. The estimate, which was done in three days, should not be taken as gospel, they said.

“An assessment of that size, done that quickly, is a monumental task,” said Peter Anderson, maintenance director for Jamestown’s school district.

Superintendent Ken Duva compared the Jacobs report to a list of recommendations. It is broken into five categories, from critical concerns to aesthetic enhancements. While $16 million is the figure that grabs headlines, only $60,000 is needed in the next five years to keep the doors open. On the other side of the spectrum, Jacobs listed water fountains, electrical outlets and smartboards as deficiencies because there weren’t enough. A $325,000 athletic track also added to the eight-figure estimate. These are not mandates, Duva said, and taxpayers won’t shoulder the cost.

“Is not having enough outlets going to change the quality of our education?” Duva asked rhetorically. “Of course not.”

Because the district ultimately will decide its future, Duva appointed a working group to tour the schools and determine priorities. The district also contracted RGB Engineering to confirm Jacobs findings. While the group will consider advice from both firms, in the end, stakeholders from town will deter-

The town’s elementary school, built in 1991, is 54,104 square feet. Although Jacobs recommended $495,000 for a parking lot, Anderson said patchwork can extend its life another decade. He also glossed over the suggestion to upgrade lighting because an LED system was installed in 2013-14.

“We’re still trying to reap those benefits,” he said.

Indoors, the vinyl tile is cracking, but Anderson recommended repairing the bad sections instead of restoring the entire floor, which is estimated to cost $278,000. The rubber flooring on the stairs, however, needs to be replaced.

Anderson also is considering refurbishing the mechanical components of the HVAC system, which will cost roughly two-thirds less than replacing them.

“Our systems aren’t breaking down,” he said. “They are all running. However, they are reaching the end of useful lives. Can we get another 10, 15 years if we refurbish instead of replace? That’s what we have to weigh.”

While some projects at Melrose can wait, Anderson said a roof tops his to-do list. “We don’t want leaks ruining equipment or causing that bad four-letter word,” he said, referring to mold.

In the boiler room, the antiquated system uses air to control the compressor, which Anderson said needs to be upgraded. Town Engineer Mike Gray, who attended the walk-through, reiterated that recommendation.

“That’s very bad,” he said. “It’s old technology. Everything is electronic these days.”

Looking at the doors, Anderson said he wants to continue upgrading their hardware, which he has been doing “slowly and methodically.” He also wants to address the unsafe practice of chocking open doors. He is recommending magnetic strips that can automatically close doors through a centralized system. Teachers, he said, shouldn’t have to deal with doorstops during emergencies.

The group also considered security upgrades for the front entrance. Currently, visitors are buzzed in through closed-circuit television. Once they enter, there are different routes for them to wander. Ideally, Duva said, visitors on the outside should be visible through a window. Also, the office should be the first thing they pass when they walk into the building.

Lawn School

The middle school, which was built in 1955, underwent renovations in 1991. The gymnasium was added in the 1970s, making the building 400 square feet larger than its counterpart.

Anderson said he was considering a vestibule leading to the gymnasium because of the after-hours activity in that room. Also, the main entrance has similar security problems to Melrose. “Cosmetically, it’s not welcoming,” he said. “It’s functional as a front entrance, but it’s not attractive.”

Because it’s an older building, Anderson said there is asbestos under the tile and in the piping. The district, however, does perform mandated six-month surveillance of the material, he assured.

“Everybody is safe,” Anderson said. “It’s no different than any other district in the state. But this is an opportunity to fix it.”

Unlike the flooring at Melrose, the vinyl tile at Lawn is bubbling and beyond repair. That will need to be replaced, he recommended.

Mechanically, Anderson is split on the HVAC system. Although the main components are refurbished and have usable life, the layout of the building is troubling for his staff. There are seven air handlers, but the five devices that control the classrooms are scattered between the floor and roof.

“We really want to look at redesigning,” he said. “Servicing them is a nightmare.” The other three, which service the gym and cafeteria, are centrally located.

As for the courtyard, Anderson said it’s in dire shape. Jacobs estimates the cost at $204,000.

“It reminds me of the Ann & Hope parking lot,” he said.

Finally, Anderson recommended new windows and electrical upgrades in the halls that haven’t been improved since the 1950s.

“It is heavily needed in that wing,” he said.

Next steps

The working group met Tuesday to finalize their priorities. Before the week is over, Duva will submit an application with those projects to the Department of Education. Within six weeks, he will hear back from the state on whether the five-year plan is approved. Only approved projects are available for reimbursements, which range from 30 percent to 80 percent.

“Right now, we just want to make sure our projects will be reimbursed,” said Jane Littlefield, the district’s finance director. “We don’t want to throw away free money.”

When the plan gets the go-ahead, the district will enter the second stage to determine the cost and timeline.

“A lot of this stuff isn’t new to us,” Littlefield said. “We don’t have estimates, but these projects have been in our capital plan.”

Anderson said the district already was drafting a five-year plan before the state initiated the Jacobs study.

“We decided to wait for the report,” he said. “This isn’t a cause for alarm. Nothing is falling apart. We are just looking ahead. We have been good stewards over 25 years, but these components are coming to an end of their useful lives. It’s at a point where the cost to maintain some of it will be detrimental to our operating budget.”

The working group

From the schools

Ken Duva, superintendent

Jane Littlefield, finance director

Peter Anderson, maintenance director

Nate Edmunds, Lawn principal

Carrie Petersen, Melrose principal

B.J. Whitehouse, school committee chairman

From the town

Andy Nota, town administrator

Tina Collins, finance director

Mike Gray, town engineer

Mike White, town councilor

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