LYME/OLD LYME — The Board of Education will hold a special meeting at the end of August to determine how much money the district should request that the towns bond as part of a project to make repairs and upgrades at four of the district’s five schools.
The current estimated cost of the project, which includes replacing boilers and ventilation units, installing HVAC systems, making the buildings ADA compliant, and expanding Mile Creek Elementary School to make space for more classrooms is $58 million – a cost that can be reduced to $48 million, said Superintendent of Schools Ian Neviaser, with expected state reimbursement.
Discussion at a meeting on Wednesday focused on whether portiones of the plan could be either eliminated or postponed to lower the cost.
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Board Chair Steve Wilson said he wanted to see a distinction between what changes were absolutely necessary and “what would be nice.”
“$57 million is … a large sum of money. And I worry, not really that people won’t see value in it, but [that] there won’t be real value in it,” said Wilson.
According to Michael Bouchard, an engineer with CES Services, a firm that worked with the architecture firm Q A + M to complete the initial assessment, the most basic needs included replacing the buildings’ rooftop ventilation units, boilers, and water heaters, all of which were 20 years old. He said that some of the buildings also needed fire sprinkler systems and upgrading to LED lights.
Bouchard called full cooling systems the “best practice” for school districts.
“If we’re going to renovate a school, we recommend full cooling … End of story,” said Bouchard. “Generally we’re seeing all new schools have cooling. All significantly renovated schools have a cooling system.”
Chris Staab asked whether it would be possible to replace the boilers at the schools, which are 20 years old and at the end of their life cycle, and postpone any additional upgrades until the board has more time to develop a plan. Staab also questioned whether this was the right time to renovate school buildings given that the cost of building materials is “at an all-time high.”
Other board members, however, said they didn’t believe the costs would go down anytime soon.
The $47 million plan also includes upgrades to make sure the facilities are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and an expansion to Mile Creek Elementary School that would accommodate more students, based on elementary enrollment numbers projected to increase beyond the district’s current capacity. Neviaser said the expansion to Mile Creek was projected to cost only $3 or $4 million in addition to the basic project because of the potential for state reimbursement.
Board member Jenn Miller said that it didn’t make sense not to complete additional repairs and safety upgrades that were needed, like making sure the buildings were ADA compliant and putting in fire sprinklers at Mile Creek and Lyme Consolidated.
“If you don’t want the K through five schools to have a fire sprinkler system … that’s up to code, that’s kind of insane, I think,” she said. “We should be in compliance with ADA regulations. We’re not. So this is the opportunity to do that and have a $10 million reimbursement from the state.”
Board member Martha Shoemaker said she was concerned that delaying the work would risk an equipment failure, potentially leaving the district in a position of being forced to spend a large amount of money for an emergency fix. Miller said that delaying parts of the project would actually increase the cost in the long run.
Board Chair Steve Wilson requested that an outside firm review the project and provide an opinion. Neviaser said the school had asked the firm Colliers International to look at the project, and that representatives from Colliers would be present at the special meeting.
Neviaser said that timing next year when one the district’s other bond payments is set to expire would allow the district to maintain a stable budget from one year to the next.
When the board finally determines the borrowing, the bonding will then need the approval of voters of Lyme and Old Lyme.
In preparation, the board is creating a building committee to oversee the renovations, and Wilson said he wanted to ask people from the community to send in their resumes and apply to be part of the committee.
The special meeting is scheduled for August 31 at 6 p.m.