Town Scrambles To Meet Deadline For School Grant
By: Mary Stanley
Town and school officials are under a tight deadline if they want to qualify for a state grant that would cover 43 percent of the costs associated with replacing the roofs and repairing windows at the Forestdale and Oak Ridge schools—work that could cost upward of $2.5 million.
Six months ago, the school department applied for a grant through the Massachusetts School Building Authority’s Green Energy Repair Program seeking financial assistance with replacing the roof and windows at the Forestdale School.
Recently, the Oak Ridge School’s roof replacement and window repairs were added to that grant application. But to qualify for the grant, the town must prove that it has the money to pay for an engineering firm to do a preliminary assessment of the roofs and windows at the schools, which is estimated to cost $35,000.
According to Superintendent of Schools Mary Ellen Johnson, she has secured a grant that will pay for this expense. In addition to that, the town must come up with $60,000 for architect costs and $15,000 for costs associated with hiring a project manager—both required by the Green Energy Repair Program.
This week, Town Manager George H. Dunham sent a memo to selectmen, finance committee members, the capital improvement planning committee, and school officials stating that he plans to ask the finance committee to allow $75,000 to be transferred out of the reserve account to cover these costs.
In his memo, Mr. Dunham stated that there is a sense of urgency for securing these funds, since there is a deadline of February 1, 2011.
In addition to that, since this green energy grant is not expected to be available after this year, this is the town’s only chance to get assistance from the state for the project.
“This looks like our one bite at the apple, because funding for the program for 2012 and the foreseeable future is not expected,” Mr. Dunham wrote.
Mr. Dunham will ask finance committee members to approve the reserve fund transfer at their meeting on Tuesday. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 PM and will be held on the upper level of the lodge at Oakcrest Cove.
If the town can secure the funds in time, Mr. Dunham said the Massachusetts School Building Authority will assist in selecting a project manager and architect, eliminating the need for the town to go through a lengthy public bidding process.
From there, he said, Town Meeting will have to approve a debt exclusion for the remainder of the project costs, about $1.4 million.
According to Mr. Dunham, if the question fails at Town Meeting, the town will be partially reimbursed for the initial expenses incurred. But the window repairs and roof replacements also will not get completed and the leaks at the two schools will continue.
“I would be so thrilled if we could get this work done,” Dr. Johnson said. She said one of the first things she noticed when she came to the district three years ago and toured the schools was the need to replace the roofs at those schools.
Dr. Johnson said she applied for a grant from the state building authority three years ago to replace the roof at the Oak Ridge. Although the grant was approved, she said, because the town did not have the funds for its portion of the work, she could not get the grant. But, she said, she is hopeful that voters at Town Meeting will approve a debt exclusion for this work.
“I think people understand the need,” she said. She pointed out that the state paying 43 percent of the cost of this project translates into more than a $1 million. While the capital improvements planning committee estimated that this work would cost $2.5 million based on a study conducted last year, Mr. Dunham said that is a just an estimate.
“That’s a really rough number and the whole purpose of the project manager, architect, and engineer is to come up with a much firmer, accurate number,” Mr. Dunham said.
If Town Meeting does approve the debt exclusion, all of the roof and window repairs will have to be completed by the end of the 2011 calendar year, according to the conditions of the grant.
Dr. Johnson said she would like to have the engineering studies and architecture work done in the spring so that the roof repairs can be made during the summer and not interrupt students during the school year.
In November, the CIPC went before voters at a Special Town Meeting asking them to approve a $6 million debt exclusion to cover a list of priority maintenance needs to town and school buildings. This $6 million list included repairs to the schools’ windows and replacing the roofs, which are well past their 20-year lifespan. Voters, however, rejected the request.
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