School Board Meeting Minutes November 05, 2013

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School Committee Workshop
at the MDIHS
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
1:00 p.m.

Attendance: Katelyn Damon, Barbara Meyers, Ben Fulves, Heather Webster, Howard Colter, Kelly Sanborn, and Nancy Thurlow

Meeting began at 1:06 pm. Howard discussed the goals of this workshop to be as prepared as possible for the meeting on the 12th with the Selectmen in the morning, to bode a more meaningful conversation. Howard reiterated Ben’s recommendation as he understood it to be, that it would be advisable to complete the work on both schools at one time. To keep doing this work spread out over years is becoming not the best use of public dollars. To go in and get one lump sum of money to complete the renovation on both schools to get it done would be more beneficial. If this was approved by the voters, work would be undertaken and complete by the end of summer 2014. The project would be put out to bid.

Ben stated his specific reasons for completing the jobs in this fashion were to have the school be ready to open on GCI in September 2014. He did not want the construction to be in the way of the decision to open or not open the school.

Howard and Barbara discussed their concerns of the meeting turning into a question of when is the school going to open conversation and turn away from the goal of the meeting with the Selectman.

Barbara further discussed her reasons for why the School Board is looking at this shift in approach. She stated it is hard for the voters to not know where this will end. The town needs some sort of fiscal predictability.

Katelyn felt the conversation will need to come up very soon of when the Longfellow School is going to open. She is concerned that the voters will not want to put money into a building that may or may never open as a school. Katelyn feels the use of the school needs to be defined.

Discussion ensued regarding the differences between opening both schools versus keeping the children together. Howard suggested the Board begin to form a policy on this issue, with the main focus to keep the children together. There would be criteria used in determining when it made more sense to use one school perhaps over another and start running a list. Barbara suggested we could simply state we are going to switch schools on alternate years. This would help answer the question the voters are raising.
Ben began discussion of the technical components of this decision. Ben stated the Longfellow School building in its current condition is considered unsafe by the State Fire Marshal, given, according to a number of different criteria. The board had within the last two years come to a decision to undertake those safety code improvements and repairs in a way that is consistent with the buildings use returning to that of a school. All of the safety repairs that could be undertaken independent of how the building was used have been done, maybe one or two left. Now what’s left are the larger projects, which must be undertaken with a potential future use in mind. Those projects require more money than has been allocated. Any repairs that get undertaken at this point adhere to that master plan. It is really no longer possible to complete the remaining code improvement issues without doing more substantial work that also moves the building closer to being used as a school building.

Kelly discussed concerns of the Board not being ready to entertain conversations about when the school was to be open. Her feeling was there was a lot of logistics to work out before we could answer that question. Katelyn felt the town would want to know the criteria, what we were envisioning if the school was to ever open, perhaps an outline of intentions. Katelyn felt we need to be on the same page and need to work out those details.

Ben asked to keep in mind that from a code standpoint the building is completely on borrowed time at this point. The grandfathered provisions no longer really apply to the building. As you go about changing the use of the building incrementally, you go further and further into violation of the code requirements for any given use and you lose the grandfathered protections that may have been in place increasingly. He stated as long as the Board or the district owns this building the code issues must be confronted in a coherent way, no matter what and that is going to take money no matter what. The master plan that Jeri designed and the school board has approved allows for lots of diverse uses of that building in the future. The use of the school in some cases is more stringent than some of the other uses. Ben stated that to the extent of the presentation we are making to the Selectmen is we want to borrow this money, is in some sense independent of whether we open it as a school or not. This is a comprehensive plan for the building that will enable the building to be used if not as a school than as some other function, including the present function that puts it in complete code compliance and does so by the end of August next year.

Barbara asked if there was some kind of timeframe we could offer at this meeting to fold into the presentation and town meeting of school versus building repair in efforts to give the Board time to draft policies on opening the school.

The conversation now shifted to the budget, allocation of funds and the sum of money being requested. Ben stated as he understood it, we would be be taking all of the capital expenses for the next fiscal year and borrow a lump sum to pay for those and, therefore, no money will be allocated in the budget in the capital account for the buildings in this years school budget. Nancy stated any normal maintenance repairs or service contracts, etc. would need to be added to the repair account. Ben advised asking for $5000 for the repair account for next year. That would take it out of the equation for the capital account and just focus on the amount that is going to be used for the capital construction projects. Nancy stated for the buildings last year the repair account was $8000. The grounds account had $2000 for each school. This will be discussed in further detail at the budget talks.

Nancy suggested we would not be going to the bond bank. It would be better to go to a local bank because you could repay it faster where with a bond bank you cannot. There is specific timelines with the bond banks that are more stringent. The local banks could handle the amount being requested. Ben discussed borrowing a fixed sum versus establishing a line of credit. Barbara suggested we need to have what the comparative methods would cost over time before the 11/12 meeting. Howard stated he could find this out before the meeting if he had a number to work with, as well as, how many years for a payback. Howard felt we would be better borrowing a set amount of money and if there was money left at the end of the project it could be applied to paying back the debt if this is an option. Ben felt a contingency must be in play sufficient to cover potential overages when we go to the bank, as bids will not be in in time for the budget. Ben felt $500,000 was the safe number to ask for including contingencies and including project management from winning bid. This would also include finishing the job at the Ashley Bryan School. Ben stated he would have a more exact budget for the November 12th meeting, but would not have it before. He felt $500,00 was a number to use for getting comparative information. There was discussion on what term we would be looking to repay the loan. Nancy felt a 10-year term would most likely be what the banks would want. Nancy stated it would be an annual principal payment and biannual interest payments, one being just interest. It was felt the town would be borrowing the money.

Ben stated he would give a line-by-line breakdown of each component of each of the projects. Kelly asked Nancy to obtain a few different figures based on a few different scenarios, as Ben could not give an exact figure before the 11/12 meeting. Nancy agreed to obtain comparative figures for 400,000, 450,000, and 500,000 loan amounts.

Ben said he would draft a memo for the school board that makes a statement from an outside source, meaning him, stating that the board is at a point where additional work that is necessary to make the building safe must be undertaken in the context of the master plan that was approved in order to avoid having to take this work apart and redo it in the event of the future use of the building as a school or some other assembly function. It is the case an elevator could be put in the building now without moving the rooms around or that stairs could be put down to the basement without moving the bathroom, that could be done now, but if it is done in the most direct and cheapest way for the way the building is being used now, it will have to be taken apart and redone in the event the building is used for assembly purposes or school in the future.

Barbara stated she would like to open with where we have been and why we are shifting our approach to finishing this work. She would like to briefly discuss that we have adopted a master plan and why it is important to follow that master plan.

Howard felt the board should go in with clear, concise statements about what we are trying to accomplish, one of which being reducing exposure to liability. Also trying to complete the job in a timely manner as possible, and manage public dollars to the best of our ability. These are three reasons why doing this job in a fairly aggressive manner is responsible and prudent.

Barbara began preparing how she was going to structure the meeting, with involvement at the meeting from Howard, Ben, and Nancy. Barbara discussed how both schools have succumb to deferred maintenance as to not be too much of a burden to the town, but we have reached the end of the deferment road. Howard stated we should mention that our goal is not to spend every last dollar, but whatever is left over and we hope is a healthy amount, would be applied to reducing the amount greatly at once.

There was discussion regarding whether or not the loan should be put out to bid and who will be obtaining the bid for the loan, the town vs. the district.

Final thoughts on if we were prepared. All agreed.

Barbara thanked everyone and meeting was adjourned at 2:20 pm

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