Mam’k School Board Closing In On Major Bond Decision
by Joan R. Simon
(January 8, 2008) The Mamaroneck School Board intensified its scrutiny of items in the 5-year capital improvement plan at their study session on December 18th (see: School Board Debates $51.1 Million Bond). They also debated when to put a bond before the community and what to include in it from both the capital plan and the fields proposal, which they have reviewed twice in the past six weeks (see:Schools Favor Moving Ahead with Turf Fields & Lights).
The majority of the trustees favored putting both the capital improvements and the field renovations into one bond and recommended having the bond vote on May 20, along with the annual budget vote and board election. However, there were concerns that the required environmental review (SEQR) for the fields might not be completed by that date.
The bulk of the meeting was devoted to reviewing capital items, re-arranged for this meeting into nine categories with the first group having the highest priority. All of the trustees agreed that the bond should include at least the projects in the first two groups, which consist of new boilers and heating and ventilating (HVAC) systems at the Hommocks and Central, new windows at the Hommocks (see: Chart 1), and items designated as “exterior preservation, safety and code compliance” (see: Chart 2). This work would cost a total of approximately $22 million.
Several trustees also wanted to include all or most of the items in Chart 3 (below), which comprise “other exterior preservation” that is deemed “not quite as urgent,” but still very important, according to Rick Marsico, the board’s liaison to the building committee. “We can’t predict with certainty when something might fail,” he warned. Adding the items on Chart 3 would bring the total close to $29 million. (Charts 1 – 4 can be found on the Mamaroneck Schools website.)
Also of Interest: Bathrooms and Electrical Outlets
Of the other items in the original $51.1 million capital plan, bathrooms and electricity held the most interest for the board members. George McNally, the director of facilities, noted that the bathrooms throughout the district “range from new to closed” and most of the trustees were in favor of renovating at least the ones that were not fully functional. The average cost per bathroom is $70,000 - $90,000, a far cry from residential bathroom renovations. It was noted that school bathrooms are not only larger than home facilities - with multiple toilets and sinks, partitions and large mirrors - but their construction needs to be more durable than home facilities. Also adding to the cost was work required on the infrastructure of pipes.
Electric outlets in the classroom, which didn’t show up until Chart 6, were also a focus of the board’s attention. Mr. McNally explained that while power within the school buildings has already been upgraded, there are far too few outlets in each classroom, leading to a maze of extension cords that are “completely against code” and potentially hazardous. The trustees were also concerned with the extent to which new technology might be limited by inadequate electrical sources in the classrooms. The cost of adding what was described as “thousands of outlets district-wide,” as well as the connecting wires to each new location, is $2.2 million.
Questions on New Boilers at Hommocks and Central
Representatives from LAN Associates, the architectural and engineering firm hired by the school district to oversee this work, were peppered with questions on the cost and necessity of many of the items presented. The new boilers and HVAC systems at the Hommocks ($11 million) and Central ($2.668 million) came under scrutiny. It was explained that the Hommocks covers 275,000 sqare feet, versus 90,000 for Central. While both replacement systems are similar, the work at the Hommocks touches every classroom in the original building, whereas most of the terminal work at Central was previously done.
Meryl Rubinstein, assistant superintendent for operations, commented on the costs involved if one of the boilers failed. The school would be able to “bypass the entire process” of bidding, which is established by the State Education Department (SED). But it would be allowed only “to fix the boiler if it were fixable,” or to truck in a portable boiler. To replace a boiler would require approval from the SED and could not be done in an emergency situation.
You would “spend money on a stopgap basis, but still have to go out to bid for the whole project later,” thus incurring unnecessary added expense, noted Trustee Michael Jacobson. Everyone agreed it would be prudent for both financial and logistical reasons to get the boilers replaced as soon as possible to avoid an emergency situation. Because of the lengthy approval and bidding process, however, the earliest the boiler work could begin would be the late spring of 2009.
New windows were seen as an integral part of the boiler replacement project at Hommocks, since work on the vents in each classroom would involve removing and replacing parts of the ceilings. These are the same parts that would need to be removed in order to replace the windows, which are poorly insulated, with many of the frames rusting out.
Ken Karle, president of LAN, pointed out that the new boilers would be more energy efficient and the temperature controls would be better. Together with insulated windows, there would a “payback” over a period of time.
New Seats for the MHS Auditorium?
Part of the asbestos abatement project in Chart 2 includes removal of the vinyl asbestos tiles in the high school auditorium. Because the seats have to be removed in order to do the work, the Board President Amy Levere noted that “it makes no sense to take out the seats and put them back in. To the extent we’re going to do anything in McLain, we should do it all,” referring to the additional $415,000 for new seating listed in a lower priority chart. (The cost of taking out the seats and putting them back was not included in the asbestos allocation on Chart 2.) This view was supported by Mr. McNally who pointed out that the seats have been repaired many times in the past and at this stage “they’re practically beyond rebuilding.”
Fire Alarm Systems/Central Parking Lot
Questions were asked about the fire alarm systems for Hommocks and Murray, also on Chart 2. Mr. McNally explained that each system is actually a “hodgepodge” that was “never designed to work together.” “There will come a time when we can’t get parts,” he said, noting that he has been “jury-rigging” the systems for years, “but there’s no guarantee for how long” they will work.
There were questions about repair work at the Central parking lot listed on a lower priority chart. Superintendent Paul Fried said the management company at the Village Square (Trader Joe’s) parking lot on the Boston Post Road planned to close the gate leading to Central School and that in the future drop-offs and pick-ups could only be done from the Palmer Avenue side of the school. “You wouldn’t want to put money into the Central parking lot and not solve the circulation problem,” one trustee noted, and recommended holding off on this project until the traffic situation at Central can be fully evaluated.
Dr. Fried sent a letter on December 20 notifying parents of the closing, which took effect over the vacation period. (See: Access from Village Square to Close)
How Large a Bond will the Community Support?
Of the seven school board trustees, only Ms. Levere felt that most of the $51.1 million of capital projects recommended by the building committee could be put to the community in a bond. But the other trustees, who supported lower expenditures, were conflicted about neglecting so many projects. It was repeatedly pointed out during the evening that postponed projects often have to be done on an emergency basis through the operating budget (e.g., the cupola at the high school) or require more expensive replacement, rather than repair (e.g., the retaining wall at Murray, which was on the list of an earlier bond as a simple repair item, but did not make the cut).
Mr. Jacobson spoke about the “conflict between being custodians of our buildings and grounds and custodians of the taxpayers’ pocketbook.” He warned that the board was probably going to have to “neglect our responsibility to our buildings” which “will eventually come back to haunt us.”
Including Fields in the Bond?
All but two of the trustees wanted to include both fields and capital projects in one bond and to have the bond and budget voted on the same day. The fields project includes Plan C (renovation of Memorial and Manchester fields at the high school), redoing the field at Central, and new surfaces for the play areas at Chatsworth and Murray. The total estimated cost of doing all the field work is nearly $10 million, although the more than $2 million dollars for the Chatsworth and Murray playgrounds are high-end estimates and the scope of that work has not yet been determined.
Mr. Jacobson cited “vote fatigue” as a reason to keep the two votes on one day. “The nays are always energized,” he said. Linnet Tse supported a single bond, saying “I think athletics are an integral part of the schools.” Mr.Jacobson agreed, warning that if two separate bonds were presented to the public, “you are unwittingly driving a wedge in the community.” Nancy Pierson supported two separate bonds, “if the fields continue to be controversial.” Robin Nichinsky proposed including the renovations at Memorial field, but postponing Manchester field as a way to reduce the overall field costs.
Talking to the Community
Board members will be talking about the bond proposal at PTA meetings
in January (see: box) and at several gatherings for
the broader community, to be scheduled in February. The trustees will
have a “dual role,” Ms. Levere said, to “explain what
it is that is here, not solely listening and not solely saying this is
what we’ve decided.” The board hopes to make a final decision
on the bond later this winter.