Saturday, December 20, 2014

West Franklin picks project priorities

By ABBY ECKEL, Herald Staff Writer | 2/28/2014

POMONA — It was a question of which comes first — the money or the projects.

West Franklin school board members had a special meeting Wednesday night to decide which infrastructure projects to prioritize. The board recently voted to allow Energy 360 Solutions — a company that finds energy inefficiencies and other related problems in homes and buildings — to complete an investment grade audit to observe which areas of the schools needed to be addressed, prioritize the projects and estimate costs for each project.

The audit showed a list of 20 projects to be addressed, with HVAC upgrades at Appanoose Elementary School in the top position along with district wide electrical upgrades, new window installation and other items.

The board previously decided $700,000 was the maximum amount its members felt comfortable spending out of the capital outlay budget to fund the necessary projects. Board members said Wednesday night they felt more comfortable spending closer to $500,000 since school funding was such an uncertainty.

HVAC unit upgrades at Appanoose elementary had the board struggling to find common ground. The units are more than 20 years old and are living on borrowed time, Dotson Bradbury, West Franklin school superintendent, said, but Lisa Reece, board member, said she didn’t feel comfortable spending money on HVAC upgrades at Appanoose when it was uncertain how long the elementary school would remain open.

“My feeling is probably going to be very unpopular and it’s that, I think we need to prepare to keep the main campus, the middle school and high school,” Reece said. “I think we need to keep [the Pomona campus] upgraded because I think eventually, whether people like it or not, everything’s going to live on one campus. I’m very reluctant to spend an over abundance of money on major things on either end because I think it is coming to that whether we like it or not that it’s coming to one campus.”

Agreeing that the HVAC units needed to be addressed in one way or another, members tossed around the possibility of increasing the capital outlay mill levy, which is currently at 4 mills, or another financing option.

“We’re going to have to have some kind of tax, either the mill levy — 4 mills or whatever,” Tim Matthias, board member, said. “We can’t continue to do this without something.” 

Joe Hurla, a representative from Energy 360, told the board that borrowing $500,000, with 15-year financing would be a $50,000 a year payment — something Bradbury said the board likely could do without putting too much strain on the budget.

“It’s like [Matthias] said, the district’s going to need some additional financial resources from patrons, be it an increasing in the capital outlay mill levy, bond issue, whatever,” Bradbury said. “I don’t think anybody can make a sound argument that you’re going to be able to continue to do maintenance with 4 mills of capital outlay. That’s a herculean task that nobody could do so at some point.”

The board decided each member should make a list of his or her top projects that would stay within the $500,000 range, as well as adding additional items for possible finance options or for a mill-levy increase.

Board members came to a consensus on the upgrades for which it wanted Energy 360 to get specifications and pricing: fixing the plumbing at West Franklin High School, electrical upgrades at the high school and middle school and at Williamsburg Elementary School, along with looking at replacing the hot water tank at Williamsburg and adding a controlled system on HVAC units across the district to save energy and money.

Energy 360 plans to return with bids for the electrical and plumbing upgrades in May for the board to review, Hurla said. 

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