Schools' roof-repair project hits another snag
Published 3:10 pm, Tuesday, October 25, 2011
The Representative Town Meeting decided this week it didn't have enough information to vote on a nearly $1 million roof repair project for five schools.
The RTM voted 23-17 Monday to postpone action on the proposal, which has been discussed by various town bodies since March.
The $901,467 appropriation would pay for repairs at Sherman, North Stratfield, Osborn Hill, Riverfield and Holland Hill schools and extend warranties on the work for five years. All of the schools have roofs that leak.
Part of RTM members' problem with the request was prompted by differing opinions from experts. The Board of Education's roof consultant has recommended the work be done, while the Town Facilities Commission feels the work is being driven not simply by need, but for the warranty extensions.
"It seems like an inordinate amount of money to be spending on the roofs," TFC Chairman Al Kelly said. "The work should be done as needed, we should not have the warranty driving the work."
Kelly said his committee felt it was not a good investment for the town to make.
"We've got two groups of experts here and they don't agree," said Thomas McCarthy, R-8. "I'd like to see some analysis to demonstrate whether it's worth the value of the warranty or not. Otherwise, I feel like I'm making a decision in a vacuum."
But Hal Schwartz, D-7, said postponing action until the RTM's November session would mean handing it over to a new RTM, since it will be after the Nov. 8 election.
"I know it's going to a new RTM, and it seems illogical," said Assistant Majority Leader Edward Bateson, R-3, "but with the information I have at hand now, to me, it's not an informed decision."
Minority Leader Cristin McCarthy Vahey, D-6, said the school board's consultant had been on the roofs in question. "If we're asking the TFC for more information, how would they get it?" she asked.
Kelly said the panel would need to have someone go up on the roofs to support its contention and get estimates on the areas that need repair. He said several committee members are willing to go onto the roofs. However, to hire an outside consultant to do the inspection would require funding, which his committee does not have.
"We'll do whatever we need to do," he said.
Superintendent of Schools David Title said in order to get firm numbers on the extent of needed roof repairs would require infrared scanning.
"What I'm hearing is if there is a lower alternative, give us the details so we can compare," Title said. "It looks like you're looking for an alternative plan from the TFC."
He said the school board is "comfortable" with its request. "We've done our due diligence. This is an outside number and we would spend up to that amount. It seems to me the ball's in both our courts, but somewhat more in Al's court."
Carolyn Richmond, R-1, said the RTM wants to know that the cost it approves would be the right figure. "Pay for a consultant, do the infrared testing," she said. "The real question is, is $450,000 or $900,000. That's a big difference. I think that's what we're looking for; we need numbers to be able to make a decision ... We don't want to give them a blank check for $900,000 and say, `Spend whatever you need.' "
"It doesn't feel straightforward to me," said Liz Hoffman, R-8, who also asked why money for roof repairs has not been allotted in the Board of Education's budget, and "why didn't it come up six months ago."
Title said it was included in the school board's long-range facilities plan, and was approved by the school board around the same time as the budget. However, because of the price tag, and the thought the project might need a building committee, it was not part of the 2011-12 operating budget.
A suggestion was made to just give $30,000 for now to hire a consultant, but Fiscal Officer Paul Hiller said that would require that the request go back through the full review process -- getting approval first from the Board of Selectmen and then the Board of Finance.
"I'd like to support this warranty if it's a good deal," Tom McCarthy said, "but I don't know yet if it's a good deal." He said the school board and the TFC need to "get together and decide what's right and what's wrong ... I want to understand why this warranty is a good thing."