2018-2019 Town Budget Season Begins

School to seek $800k from town over four years

Fri, 11/03/2017 - 9:45am

The New Shoreham School Committee will ask the Town for about $800,000 to be spread out over the next four years to fund capital improvements and repairs at the Block Island School. 

The Committee, at its most recent meeting, agreed with member Elizabeth Connor’s suggestion that the school district make sure the Town’s Planning Board understands that the R.I. Department of Education (RIDE) has approved the projects in the district’s five-year capital improvement plan. The Committee wants the appropriations to be included in each year’s town budget, starting in July 2018, to ensure that the school will be able to move ahead with the approved projects.

The school’s capital improvement plan is separate from the town’s own five-year capital budget, developed by the Planning Board and recommended to the Town Council. The budget approved at the May 2017 Financial Town Meeting for the current fiscal year includes $204,750 for heating and air conditioning upgrades and exterior improvements at the school. The previous year’s budget included $49,000 for an exterior security system and work on the heating system. But the Planning Board’s recommendations do not include any funding for the school through June 2021.

At the School Committee meeting on Oct. 16, Supt. Dr. Judith Lundsten told the board that she had met with Facilities Manager Sam Bird to review the school’s needs. She said the discussion focused on energy efficiency improvements, such as replacing one or more boilers and installing new energy management control systems, that could be partially paid for with state funds.

RIDE’s “Fast Track Repairs” program reimburses school districts 30 percent of the cost of projects to repair and improve existing buildings. 

The district must submit a list of projects to RIDE for approval, then appropriate and spend its own funds to complete the work before the reimbursement is paid. 

The net effect, Lundsten said, is that the town would recoup part of the projects’ expenses, reducing the final cost, but only if the local money is spent first.

“We need to do our homework” to get the request ready for both the state and the town, Lundsten said. She recommended the new capital budget request also include a “planning grant” to identify and prioritize the next set of projects.

Connor responded that she wanted to remind the Planning Board that the last round of capital budget hearings included what she called a “commitment” that the school would receive funding each year to carry out its RIDE-approved plan.

“We made this point about the commitment” at the budget hearing, Connor said, “and everybody nodded their heads.” 

She suggested that the school request about $200,000 from the town budget in each of the next four years for the capital items.

If the money is not budgeted, Connor anticipated a problem completing the work. “If we get to the end and we have to ask for $400,000 in the fourth year, they [the Planning Board and the Town Council] won’t have it to give us.”

At the meeting, Bird cautioned the Committee that some of the anticipated projects can’t be done “in a piecemeal fashion.” For example, he said, HVAC equipment would have to be replaced during the summer when the building is mostly empty.

In the end, Lundsten and Bird agreed to go forward with the Committee’s direction. “That’s doable,” they said.

Improving school facilities is a mantra from Gov. Gina Raimondo. Lundsten told The Block Island Times after the meeting. She also noted that the specific list of projects could change, based on the facility’s needs and emergencies. She said the RIDE officials “listen” to the school districts, and work with them to meet changing needs as they arise.

The School Committee’s next meetings will be Nov. 13 and Dec. 11, both at 7 p.m. at the school.