2017-10-26 / Front Page

Schools apply for $8.5M in repairs

State approval doesn’t mandate work, but opens door for reimbursement

New roofs, upgraded heating systems, asbestos removal and safer fuel tanks highlight an $8.5 million plan submitted to the state last week by the school district.

While the administration does not expect to pursue that number, projects must appear on the so-called Necessity for School Construction application for the town to seek reimbursement by the Department of Education.

“We need to really work with our consultants to get that cost down,” said Ken Duva, superintendent of schools. “Just because we’re applying for these projects, doesn’t mean it will all happen. We do not plan on asking the town for $8 million.”

The application was submitted in the wake of a statewide assessment by Jacobs Engineering of all school facilities. That report, released in September, unveiled daunting numbers to every district in Rhode Island, including $16 million in recommendations in a five-year span to maximize Melrose and Lawn schools.

The district’s maintenance director, Peter Anderson, however, warned against taking that report as gospel because the study was a “monumental task” for Jacobs, which meant things would fall through the cracks. For example, a $325,000 athletic track was recommended by Jacobs, but there was no mention of a diesel tank, which Anderson said could lead to environmental harm if it isn’t addressed. Also, the 30-year-old roofs, which are fueling the $8.5 million estimate, were absent from the Jacobs study. According to Anderson, they are a top priority.

The Jacobs report was broken down into five priorities levels, from critical repairs to classroom modernization. Jacobs deemed less than 1 percent of the district’s deficiencies as critical, although nearly half of the deficiencies were listed at the second highest level, totaling a bit less than $6 million.

To corroborate that number, the district hired its own independent consultants to scour the schools and determine highest priorities. The schools also appointed a working team with leaders from both the town and the schools, including Duva, Anderson, Town Administrator Andy Nota, both principals and both finance directors.

For the most part, deficiencies that appear in the Jacobs report that fell into the bottom three priority levels were not included by the working team into the district’s application.

“Those are not anything that is going to impact our educational priorities,” Duva said. “They are ideal standards to follow for an ideal setting. They’re important, but not necessary right now. For example, with technology, all of our students will have a Chromebook next year. So, do we need a smart-board in every classroom when that technology is pretty much in front of every student?”

Top priorities at Melrose identified in the $8.5 million application include rubber floors for the stairwells, a grease trap in the cafeteria’s dishwashing room and an exhaust hood in the kitchen.

Also, restroom stalls have to be made compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Lesser priorities include windows at the main entrance, security visibility and the walk-in refrigeration system. Repaving the turnaround circle at the rear of the parking lot also is listed.

The application identifies more work at Lawn, which was built in 1951, four decades before Melrose. Rotting windowsills, cracked masonry and ceiling tiles are among the areas that have fallen victim to wear and tear.

The district also wants to address the sidewalks along Watson Avenue and repair the courtyard, which is cracked throughout with sites that attract standing water.

The application also indicates a vestibule into the gymnasium, which would prevent visitors from wandering the school hallways during after-school events. Duva, however, was lukewarm about whether the working team will decide to move forward with that particular addition.

The next step, Duva said, is to wait until the state authorizes the application, which he hopes will be within a month. While the district would prefer to move forward only with projects that qualify for reimbursement, there are certain fixes, such as asbestos abatement, that will be incorporated into the district’s capital plan regardless of state approval.

Once the district gets the authorized application, the team will meet to develop a schematic design, which will get a more concrete estimate. This is when the team will determine whether the vestibule, for example, survives to the next phase.

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