Last week, the Burlington-based architectural firm TruexCullins presented a range of costs from $1.8 million to $4.7 million for a series of building repairs to Warren Elementary School. Shortly after, the school’s building and grounds committee gathered to dissect these costs line by line and create a new draft of costs for their March 15 board meeting.
The committee cut about $40,500 of items from the architectural firm’s initial quote, but they also added about $360,000 in projects for energy efficiency which the firm added to their initial quote after presenting it. These projects could reduce energy costs for the school in the coming years.
The building committee reorganized repair items from the quote to correspond with reports from Vermont School Boards Insurance Trust (VSBIT), which recommended a list of repairs to the board in 2009. The committee created two categories of items, each totaling $3.6 million and $1.4 million, or about $5 million all together. The board may present both options to voters.
NAMING NECESSARY ITEMS
Warren principal Beth Peterson said that matching items from the VSBIT insurance report to items quoted by TruexCullins was difficult and that the process was “not always clear cut.” For example, while the insurance report recommends an exterior inspection of the building, it does not recommend that they follow up with construction should anything be in need of repair. TruexCullins estimated that 30 percent of the exterior siding to be rotten and will remove it.
The insurance report also lists the removal of extension cords as an essential repair. However, TruexCullins did not place this item in a category of items prioritized for health and safety.
Peterson also said that when TruexCullins analyzed the building, they found that a fire code was in violation on the second floor where students and staff would have to travel through a classroom to get back on route to the hallway if an evacuation is needed. The school will have a continuous hallway constructed and will lose this classroom in the process. Constructing an addition to the building’s front office, which the board named as a safety issue, would allow that classroom to be rebuilt above the addition.
FUTURE ENERGY SAVINGS
Cam Featherstonhaugh of TruexCullins said that the board could also purchase an $8,600 analysis that would show potential savings in energy improvements in the future. “It’s a small amount,” he said, but Peterson replied that “every penny counts.”
Bill Maclay of Maclay Architects in Waitsfield, a firm that was not chosen to conduct repairs for the school, attended the board meeting to propose that the board consider entering into a contract with Commons Energy—a subsidiary of the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation.
Maclay said that partnering with the company is “potentially a way out of the dilemma” that a high bond cost poses to voters, as energy-related costs like mechanical systems, windows and heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) could be financed by the company rather than with a bond.
The company’s model is that clients repay investors from resulting energy savings, with “a model that benefits all,” according to their website.
“It’s a nonprofit, not like the escos [energy service companies] out there trying to make money. It’s totally for the public good,” Maclay said, who added that the company would hire others, such as his own company, to initially analyze energy costs and return on investments.
The board will meet publically on March 21 at 7:30 p.m. at Warren Elementary School to discuss this new information.
SECURING A VOTE DATE
The board decided to push their bond vote date forward from late April to May 17, but Washington West Supervisory Union (WWSU) superintendent Brigid Scheffert Nease said that the Act 46 study committee had previously pushed the vote date for an accelerated version of the merger—which would consolidate management and budgets of districts more quickly—forward to June 7 because they felt that voters wanted to know the amount of, and vote on, Warren’s bond beforehand.
“There was concern about how close these two votes are,” she said, and that the Act 46 study committee was “heartened” to create more distance between them.
New board member Jen Watkins said that the date of the bond vote does impact how people come to feel about the Act 46 vote.
One community member argued that the Warren board should set the bond vote to occur after the Act 46 vote, as Warren voters would then know what the impending bond would cost them the following year. “We won’t know if we’ll have an extra $450 or 1 cent on our tax bills,” she said, and “a lot of voters are pinching pennies.”
In the end, the board decided to keep their bond vote date scheduled prior to the Act 46 accelerated merger vote.