Potential $10M costs, schools' future discussed
The Boothbay-Boothbay Harbor Community School District Board of Trustees and School Committee talked in the Boothbay Region High School cafeteria to discuss the recent Honeywell energy audit and potential $10,000,000 in costs to upgrade the Boothbay Region Elementary School and BRHS buildings. Superintendent Keith Laser said the trustees wanted the Aug. 15 workshop to bring the board and committee together to inform the public.
Alternative Organizational Structure (AOS) 98 Facilities and Transportation Director Dave Benner walked the audience through a timeline of how the trustees came to learn the upgrades the buildings need and the costs. November 2016 ended a 10-year energy savings guarantee started with Honeywell in 2005. The project consisted mostly of replacing the heating system at BRHS. That has saved over 50 percent on fuel costs, from about 40,000 gallons a year to 18,000 gallons a year.
“Over that 10-year span we saved … about $450,000,” Benner said.
The contract's end sparked discussions about what the next 10 years may hold. In January 2017, Benner and former trustees' chair Chris Buchanan met with Jim Lucy and Bob Marcotte of Honeywell to discuss options. The two learned a second phase contract with may guarantee savings, but not likely as many.
In March 2017, the trustees and Honeywell talked and in November 2017, the trustees met again with Lucy and Marcotte for an assessment on a scope of work.
In January, the trustees put out a bid to draft and execute the work. Honeywell, one of two companies to respond, was awarded the contract. In March, Buchanan and Benner walked through the school buildings with Honeywell engineers and over the next few months, an area by area, room by room scope was identified. By May, the audit was ready and the costs were estimated.
Current estimates for the renovation are about $3.8 million; and Honeywell has two options for the HVAC project: $4.9 million or $3.4 million.
Said Benner, “We're at the point where we're at the conceptual stage, but we want a design stage. We want to see pictures on paper. The unfortunate piece is that it's going to cost us about $60,000 to get there if we choose to look at every project that we've outlined on the list. There's nothing to say that everything has to be done (or) that anything has to be done, but I think that we're kind of at a point where there's things I think we should do and there's things I'd like to do.”
Lucy presented the energy audit, starting with its objectives – reducing operation costs and spending; improving comfort, safety and air quality; targeting cost savings and rebates; and self-funding over 20 or 30 years.
Lucy showed the energy savings for both schools includes retrofitted interior and exterior LED lighting, weatherization improvements, transformer replacements, plug load controls, addition of backdraft dampers, capping abandoned exhaust systems, and having summer water heaters so boilers can be shut off.
BRHS-specific work includes an exhaust upgrade for the paint spray room and new control valves to unit ventilators. BRES-specific work includes rebalancing the teachers lounge's heating and ventilation unit, CO2 controls to the maintenance shop air unit, and a transfer fan system from the server room to the main lobby.
Capital improvements for BRES would replace 36 original classroom unit ventilators; replace original air handling units in the gym, locker rooms, teachers lounge, administration rooms, kitchen, music room, stage, maintenance shop and computer room; provide safe access to two mechanical mezzanine areas; replace boilers, fuel oil transfer pumps and hot water pumps; extend an emergency generator vent; air conditioning for the administration area; and extend a dryer vent to outdoors.
Capital improvements for BRHS would be dehumidification of the auditorium; a heat removal fan for the computer server room; replacing a lobby heater; an access door to a gym duct coil and vaccuum coil; replacing a sawdust collection system; ventilation for the weight room, offices, and shop; adding a rain hood over the art room exhaust fan; and increase lighting in the boiler room.
Benner said other projects which account for the rest of the $10 million figure being thrown around are pavement replacement, concrete replacement and 30 doors at BRES, and a combined 15 windows for both buildings. The current roofing project is not part of the discussion, Benner clarified.
A second point Laser covered involved the AOS 98's charter.
"This is where as a new guy, I'm concerned where this discussion is going to go, but I'm just going to lay the cards on the table,” he started.
Before he got the job, Laser was told AOS 98 is likely Maine's only school district to still have a charter. After a month and a half on the job, Laser said he now understands what that means for the schools and said it most definitely ties the district's hands on a financial point. "In most districts in the state, if there's money left over in your budget at the end of the year, it goes into an undesignated fund balance and then the board has some discretion what they're going to do with that."
The 1955 charter dictates that budget funds left over after the fiscal year go back to taxpayers instead of an undesignated fund balance, said Laser. The charter allows only $12,500 to be carried over every year. To give this perspective, Laser said the district he came from, which he considers a relatively poor one compared to AOS 98, has about $1,000,000 in its reserve account.
“What's your options here? Anytime you want to do anything, you pretty much have to go out and borrow money and do bonds and all that.”
Boothbay Selectman Dale Harmon said the charter issue has been on again, off again for over 10 years, at least. He asked why AOS 98 is the last district to be having a conversation about charters.
School Committee chair Larry Colcord said in the past 10 years no one has expressed concern to the committee over the charter, only the student ratio between Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor.
“We've always kind of said there are lots of things within that charter that need to change, not just the population ratio,” said Harmon. “Like the $12,500 capital improvement? You can't even buy a few tires for a bus with that kind of money.”
Trustee Kevin Anthony said the charter is part of the reason there is a discussion at all and the first item of action should be opening the charter and ensuring the district will not run into the same problem in the future. Anthony also said with so much money to spend on the schools in the near future, the towns might be spending more per pupil than to build a new school in Edgecomb, for example.
“That's something that ought to open up to the public,” said Anthony. “Let them tell us what they want because I don't know what everyone in the community wants.”
Harmon spoke up once again saying the reason there has been a discussion over the past 10 years about the charter is so it would never get to this point.
“I didn't want to have a $10,000,000 upgrade so we can start shuttling our children off of this peninsula. This should have been addressed 20 years ago. The writing's on the wall, we've all been talking about it, you've all heard about it, and you're all intelligent individuals and know that $12,500 is not enough to be able to maintain it.”
Anthony replied it takes two towns to agree to open the charter. Harmon agreed, and said it takes the two boards – trustees and committee – to bring it to the towns.
“If anyone who has been here for any amount of time tells me that there's not reluctance to open this charter, they are lying through their teeth,” Harmon said.
“This board here,” said Anthony, motioning to the trustees, “would like to see the charter opened and changed to make it more responsible to the taxpayers …”
Laser said his one regret with the evening’s workshop was not first setting ground rules.
“And one of the ground rules is that we don't discuss the past,” he said. “We've got to focus on the future.”
Boothbay Harbor Selectmen's Chair Wendy Wolf stressed she hopes the communities and school district can come together with some creative thinking to keep the schools open.
“School is the heart of our community, it really is,” said Wolf. “If you look at towns all over the United States, when a town loses its school it loses its heart. And that to me is many times the beginning of the end of the feeling of it being a real community … I'd really like that to at least try to be the first perspective before we think of sending kids down to Edgecomb … Boothbay Harbor is the driver of the economy of Lincoln County. If we can't keep our school here something is wrong.”
Colcord said it was obvious from the discussion, one of the big future goals is to bring together the Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor boards of selectmen, the trustees, and the school committee to find a path forward.
CSD Trustee Chair Richard Hallinan pointed out that most of the trustees and school committee members are alumni of the schools and local to the region.
Said Hallinan, “I think all our hearts would like to keep the school and keep it going and work it out as best as we can.”