GMUSD board narrows focus on major infrastructure spending, bond issue

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2022 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Mike Davey of Energy Efficient Investments was back before the Green Mountain Unified School District board on Monday, Dec. 21 with some new numbers for a proposed $20 million project to renovate and upgrade the district’s three schools. GMUSD operates two elementary and one high school with an enrollment of around 680 students.

Davey presented an 87 page “preliminary investment grade audit”  with architectural drawings. It appeared that the board did not have access to some of the drawings and could not make out details on the projection screen via Zoom. Click the link above to read the audit.

A drawing of the proposed reconfiguration of the CAES parking lot intended to make pickup and drop off quicker and safer. Click the image to launch a detailed pdf. Courtesy EEI

The financing of the projects will require a bond vote by residents of  Andover, Baltimore, Cavendish and Chester and, while Davey had pushed for getting the bond on the March Town Meeting ballot, for now, it looks like the vote would happen later this year.

EEI approached the schools in 2019 proposing an “energy audit,” that would look for ways to save money and increase the schools’ efficiency, but in September 2021 the company came back to the board with many proposed projects that are not energy related and some involving new construction. At previous meetings, the board cut out a number of items including four new classrooms and a new gymnasium at Chester-Andover Elementary, new playground equipment at Cavendish Town Elementary and a covered outdoor classroom for Green Mountain High, bringing the original tab of around $29 million down by about one third.

At its Oct. 25 meeting, the board asked Davey to concentrate on more concrete numbers for an option that would put the largest portion of money into upgrades and renovations of the 50-year-old Green Mountain building, with smaller fixes in the elementary schools.

Mike Davey of EEI Telegraph file photo

Davey told the board that the starting point for their deliberations was a set of projects that – with a performance bond and contingency – would cost $21.5 million with about $70,400 in estimated energy savings each year and $46,000 in rebates. The duration of annual savings is different for each project. Board chair Joe Fromberger estimated in an earlier meeting, that would amount to approximately $1 million added to the budget each year in debt service. Cheryl Hammond, business manager for the supervisory union, noted that such infrastructure spending will not count toward the “threshold” above which a district’s taxpayers are penalized for excess spending on education.

A list of projects by school with costs, projected annual savings and rebates

Early in the meeting Davey outlined the paving projects at CAES and GM, the first to cut down on problems associated with pick up and drop off and the second to make room for a new softball field. Together, they amounted to a little over $1 million.

He also spoke of several other projects including a complete renovation of the GM kitchen, which he said was looking “a bit tired.”

After some general questions about projected savings and the lifespan of equipment like boilers, transformers, LED lights and other items to be installed like windows, Fromberger turned the meeting toward a piece by piece look at each project to see if there was a consensus to go forward with it or not.

The board quickly decided that a conversion of the boilers and the GM kitchen propane made sense along with removing individual room ventilators in favor of a ducted system to deliver heat and ventilation. Many kitchen appliances already use propane, but connecting to a large tank will reduce the cost of the same cooking according to Davey. Those two items came to about $6.2 million, but the board stumbled on whether to replace the windows throughout the school. Fromberger said that replacing windows does not really add up to enough savings.

Replacing the outdated pneumatic controls for the ventilation systems with new electronic controls was adopted after Davey said that it would be extremely difficult to hook the old control up to new equipment.

The board again failed to reach consensus on a complete renovation of the kitchen when board member Deb Brown – a restaurant owner – questioned why everything needed to be replaced when there should be a lot to reuse. Davey said EEI was looking at putting in “a nice new kitchen,” but the board asked him to come back with numbers on each item so they could choose how much of the work to do.

Mike Davey, left explains the workings of a 50 year old ventilator to board member Josh Schroeder as GM’s Todd Parah looks on after the Oct. 5 meeting

The board found consensus on new transformers and an elevator upgrade (but not a totally new elevator) and split on the necessity of several upgrades to meet various codes (and the Americans with Disabilities Act) which have come into being since the building was erected.

Davey told the board that the fire marshal had said the school did not have to make these changes, but Superintendent Lauren Fierman said she would rather not just “get away with it.” Board member Mike Studin asked for more details so the board could get a closer look. The same thing happened with the question of whether or not to install a sprinkler system, which would be required in new construction, but was not when GM was built.

Davey called it a “life safety measure.” But at an earlier meeting, board member Josh Schroeder – who works in facilities management – noted they were more for protection of the building and the district’s investment rather than personal safety. He said that activating a sprinkler would take a lot of heat and that by the time a fire reaches that stage those near it should have already left the area.

Board member Rick Alexander pointed to the expense of maintaining and someday replacing a sprinkler system as drawbacks and suggested a “dry pipe” system for mitigating risk in some areas. Member Abe Gross suggested the boiler room, the kitchen and chemistry labs as examples of such areas. The board will revisit this and Davey will look into savings from using plastic rather than steel pipes for the system.

There were several questions about replacing ceilings and floors, painting and asbestos removal. Davey said that if the duct work was visible rather than up in the ceiling, money could be saved.  Fierman called it a “trendy urban loft look”

Millwork to cover up holes left by removing room ventilators, brick repointing  and an electrical service upgrade made the grade while replacing an existing storage building with a brick one and renovating an old locker room to house nurses and guidance offices did not.

Finally, a reconfiguration and repaving of the high school parking lot was approved, but with the caveat that it be done in conjunction with the replacement of a water main.

Of the 14 projects proposed for the elementary schools only one – rerouting and repaving the CAES parking lot – did not achieve consensus. That was not because of expense or a lack of need, but because board members who are currently or have been parents of CAES students did not believe the redesign meant to solve traffic issues would work.

The items where consensus was not reached or where further details were requested represent about $7.5 million or about one third of the total and it will be up to the board to see if any savings can be realized from those when Davey comes back with more information at a future meeting.

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  1. Jeremy Kelloway says:

    An energy efficiency upgrade that does not address the ancient single pane windows that make up the majority of the exterior of the Chester Andover building is missing an obvious and necessary upgrade that would save huge amounts of heating costs over the course of this bond.

  2. Tim Roper says:

    Clearly some of this work needs to be completed, but this reads like a sales job is being attempted on the board. Am I safe in assuming that any projects would go out to bid before moving forward? Would all approved projects need to be on a single bond, or might it make sense for the work be done in stages, over a longer time period?

  3. Robert Sartini says:

    About thirty grand per kid. No idea if that’s reasonable or not.
    How do we tell?

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