MADISON – Plans to upgrade the HVAC system at Polson Middle School sparked a short debate about spending limits and the town’s goals for environmental sustainability at Monday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting.
The work at Polson Middle School and the new elementary school are part of a larger $89.2 million project approved by referendum in Feb. 2022. The new school budgeted for $61.15 million and improvements on Polson budgeted for $21.55 million. There is a third project for improvements on Brown Intermediate School, budgeted at $6.5 million.
By a vote of 4 to 0, with one abstention, the board approved a $935,000 bid for the Polson project by BL Companies, a local architectural and civil engineering firm.
The $935,000 is divided into three different projects as part of the improvements at Polson.
$170,000 is for auditorium upgrades; $135,000 for electrical power distribution upgrades; and $630,000 for modernization of the HVAC system.
“This was all part of the referendum,” said Democratic First Selectwoman Peggy Lyons..
Republican Selectman Bruce Wilson, who was the one abstention, voiced concerns that the HVAC project for Polson was at odds with the town’s strategic plan and vision for sustainable energy.
“I think it’s a mistake to invest in traditional HVAC equipment in a renovation of this scope and magnitude, especially with the other work scheduled to go on on the grounds,” he said. “I’m particularly struck that the working draft of our strategic plan repeatedly talks about sustainability and investing in the future and this… we’re committing the town to at least another 15 to 20 years of fossil fuel use and it is difficult for me to support that and the strategic plan at the same time.”
In response, Lyons said that although a more sustainable system would have been preferable, it didn’t warrant the added investment.
The town has been under significant pressure to reduce spending for school construction.
Elementary school update
Graham Curtis, chair of the New Elementary School Building Committee, provided an update on the progress on the new elementary school, telling the board that the architects had completed a design for the school, and were in the process of getting the final sign offs from the state.
“Hopefully in the next two weeks, we’ll be going out to bid with the main package,” Curtis said.
There had been problems with the project going over budget.
After grants and rebates, the $61.15 million project was initially estimated to cost the town about $48.7 million, but with inflation, and the addition of four classrooms to meet changing expectations for student enrollment, the project was $5.9 million over budget.
In June, the board approved the transfer of $3.5 million from the Polson project, which was under budget, to help offset the cost, leaving $2.4 million of costs unresolved
“The building committee is working really hard to get us back on budget,” Curtis said. “We came up with $1.8 million in reductions.”
The “reductions,” Curtis said, do not reduce the number of classrooms, nor do they reduce programming in the school.
“They’re on budget and back on schedule,” he said.
As it currently stands, Curtis said, the rest of the contracts will go out to bid in early 2024.
“Hopefully we’ll hit a favorable bidding market when we go out to bid,” he said, “and we can get positive bids.”
Curtis said that construction should commence in the spring and take about 15 months, finishing by spring 2025.
“Hopefully despite some bumps in the road we’ll be able to bring that in.”