School projects raise eyebrows at Joint Board session

By TAYLOR MURCHISON-GALLAGHER

STAFF WRITER

The Joint Board held its June meeting, and one agenda item garnered much discussion from board members.

Agenda item eight, “To adopt in a single motion the Resolutions making appropriations authorizing issuance of bonds or notes to finance the following capital projects and to waive the reading of the full texts of the Resolutions, but to include them as part of the minutes: South Side School HVAC Upgrade; Stafford School Roof Replacement/Repointing; Page Park Pool and Bathhouse Renovations; Acquisition of Fire Apparatus – Tower Ladder; Louisiana Avenue Bridge Replacement; Wolcott Street Reconstruction; Lake Avenue Bridge Replacement Design; City Hall Unit Heater/AC Perimeter Replacement; and Preliminary Evaluation of the City Hall Facility” sparked conversation regarding the Board of Education’s feasibility study, presented to the BOE in Jan.

“During our Board of Finance meeting we adopted these resolutions, there were two items in particular that spoke to me and that would be the South Side School HVAC upgrade and the Stafford School roof replacement,” said BOF chair, Cheryl Thibeault. “Primarily because there is a feasibility study that is being reviewed by the BOE, and while these were approved for bond resolution, I ask that before our monies are spent, that a decision is made on that feasibility study so that we’re not investing capital dollars into schools that may be targeted for another use or closure.”

The feasibility study, conducted by Drummey Rosane Anderson, Inc. (DRA), presented four possible redistricting plans that would include 12buildings: two high schools, two middle schools (grades six through eight), six elementary schools, two K-8 schools, and the addition of the possible arts magnet school for grades six through twelve.

The first of the four options, to lay a baseline, would be to “do nothing” and stay with the current configuration of the district. The second would be to change all of the middle and elementary schools into K-8 schools. This would involve building an additional school building or renovating at least two of the existing buildings. The third possibility would be to configure the district so that there is only one middle school, Northeast. And the fourth option, similar to the third, would have Chippens Hill as the only middle school.

Thibeault’s concern was “until such time we know what’s going to happen” with these buildings, “that we not invest in those funds” as “it may change what our viewpoint is in the use of this building,” and, she would like to know the BOE’s decision regarding the feasibility study before “millions or hundreds of thousands of dollars” are spent.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Sue Moreau said the BOE operations committee would be reviewing the study in their upcoming meeting, on Tuesday, June 19.

BOF commissioner Mike LaMothe disagreed with Thibeault, saying that the basic structure of the building should be kept intact, regardless of what use the building may come to have. Councilors Mary Fortier and Peter Kelley shared that opinion, saying that the building maintenance should be kept up with, if for nothing other than marketability.

Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu said, “The motion that is before us tonight is to make appropriations and authorizing issuance of bonds or notes to finance the following capital projects as a group, and I think that we’ve grouped these together… so they’re together as a group for purposes of issuance of the bond. They’ve also been duly reviewed by the 10 year capital improvement, they’ve been put forward, they’ve gone through the budget process to the BOF, and are now here on the Joint Board, and while I appreciate the concerns of some of our members, I believe that it would be prudent to go forward with a motion to approve this tonight.”

“But to clarify, mayor, I didn’t ask that these be removed from here,” said Thibeault. “I’m just cautioning that before we spend, let’s have the final answer. I understand the need to go forward with the bonding in case we do want to move ahead, but we’ve got time, and that was my point.”

Ultimately, the motion was passed with a roll call vote, in which all 13 members of the Joint Board voted yes.

Comptroller Diane Waldron presented her monthly update. City revenues are strong, with tax revenues “coming in steady at 100.4 percent for current revenues; 96.3 percent for prior, and 104.5 percent for interest and lien fees through May.” “Overall, licenses, fees and permits collected have exceeded budget revenues by 36.9 percent or $416,105 through May 31, primarily due to building permits revenue which is at 149.7 percent of budget, or $422,755 through the end of May.”

On the expenditure side of the budget, Waldron said, “There’s really not too much more to report, but I did let you know that the Public Works budgets for snow operations and fleet maintenance, the repairs and so forth, will need transfers at the end of the year. I’m hoping we can do that within some of the other line items. And, the BOE has been reporting monthly to the BOF, and I anticipate this month, I believe they’ll be coming to the BOF, a request to get them through to June 30. Right now the estimate is about $1.28 million that they need.”

Waldron also said there is $738,000 balance left in contingency, “so that will help us balance things at the end of the year.”

Comments? Email tmurchison@BristolObserver.com.