NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

March 8, 2013

More funding requests for Page School raise concerns

BY JENNIFER SOLIS
CORRESPONDENT

---- — WEST NEWBURY — Selectmen raised concerns recently about continued requests from the Page School Building Committee to fund additional projects for ongoing renovation work at the town’s elementary school.

On a draft version of the annual town warrant, currently under review by selectmen, the committee seeks $159,404 “to cover potential cost increases associated with unforeseen conditions and/or required design modifications.”

A second article asks for $105,690 “to remove a portion of the existing gymnasium floor that was not slated for removal as part of the current cafetorium renovation” for the school project.

Finance Director Warren Sproul reported that the project also seeks $16,000 to upgrade tables and chairs in the cafeteria, an expense made necessary because the new lunchroom can now accommodate more students and the old tables and chairs will not work.

Selectmen want to determine whether it is appropriate under the Pentucket Regional Agreement for the cost for the tables and chairs to be borne by the district.

The Annual Town Meeting is slated for April 29.

Selectman Glenn Kemper said he was starting to get uncomfortable with the number of times the committee is returning for additional funds. At a special Town Meeting last fall, voters approved $35,000 for enhanced lighting and access for the new gymnasium at the back of the school and $33,000 for electrical improvements, but rejected a request for $120,000 to upgrade the masonry material on one exterior wall of the new gym.

Last spring Town Meeting OK’d $745,000 from the Community Preservation Act account for a heating distribution system for the building as part of the project’s Phase II.

Kemper stressed that in order to retain credibility with voters it is important to “be true to the taxpayers.”

Despite estimates that it would cost $20 million to renovate the more than 100-year-old building for the next 20 to 30 years, voters approved just $10 million for the school project in 2010. After the state reimbursed the town $1.6 million for installation of boilers, windows and roofing as part of its Green Repair program, the cost to the taxpayers for the original project was reduced to $8.4 million.

At the special meeting last October the finance board cautioned the town “to expect articles presented every year for funds to continue to renovate and maintain Page School for the next 10 to 15 years.” It also recommended the building committee provide a five-year capital plan to help the town adequately prepare for what could wind up being another $10 million in improvements for the school.

Acceptance of Mechanic Street as a public way and a proposal from the Energy Advisory Committee to adopt the state’s Stretch Code, an appendix to the Massachusetts State Building Code, also appear on the annual warrant draft.

A draft of a special warrant for the same night as the annual meeting currently contains several requests from Public Works director Gary Bill, including $175,000 for road and sidewalk improvements, $39,560 for repairs to the Garden Street Fire Station, $182,840 to purchase a four-wheel drive loader, $59,000 for a roadside mower, $33,912 to replace carpeting in the Annex and the 1910 Town Office Building.

Bill is also seeking $14,200 in Community Preservation Act funding to replace the roof of the Mill Pond Building. The Open Space Committee will ask voters for $40,100 from CPA to install a bridge over the Indian River and a boardwalk on the Coffin Street trail that connects to the Riverbend West trails.

A $12,000 request from the Board of Fire Engineers to repair the department’s tower truck also appears on the preliminary special warrant. The truck was damaged when it responded to a house fire on River Road during last month’s blizzard.