WHITMAN — Capital school projects and the status of plans for a new DPW building [see related story] were the focus of the first meeting of the town’s Buildings, Facilities and Capital Expenditures Committee since last spring.
WHRSD Business Services Director Christine Suckow, School Committee member Fred Small and Facilities Director Ernest Sandland attended the Feb. 16 meeting to review capital projects priorities for the fiscal 2018 budget cycle. Small is also chairman of the School Committee’s facilities subcommittee.
“The function of this committee is two-fold — to oversee and manage capital projects and to make recommendations about spending,” said Town Administrator Frank Lynam, who again chairs the Buildings panel. “The decision to spend that money is made by Town Meeting.”
The Buildings Committee makes recommendations on capital expenditures and the Finance Committee makes recommendations on whether they believe expenditures are appropriate and good for the town. The panel will be meeting again when it receives capital plans for other departments and will also meet with the Finance Committee.
“We will look at what we are willing to commit for funding this year,” Lynam said. “The only way whatever plan we come up with will work is if we have a united plan — we’re all on the same page.”
He does not see the town dipping into stabilization for capital projects this year.
“I’m more concerned with the budget itself,” he said. The per-school breakdown of the school budget for Whitman schools is: $1,631,000 for Whitman Middle School; $654,000 for Conley and $456,000, according to Suckow.
Whitman generates most of its revenue from local taxes, with the reserve for appropriation ambulance account coming in second, according to Lynam.
“When we look at purchases and our ability to fund them, we’re constrained by what we’re able to generate in revenue,” he said.
Lynam again explained that a recent windfall in personal property taxes from National Grid, having made significant improvements to the company’s property in Whitman. As that money is expected to go away within eight years, Lynam has advocated spending the tax receipts on nonrecurring capital expenses.
“If I build a budget on money that isn’t going to be there next year, were [in trouble],” he said. “We’re behind the eight-ball.”
School department capital requests, most of which have been on the list from previous years, include:
• An engineering study for the Duval School roof;
• Fire alarm and smoke detector replacement at all three of the town’s schools, $50,000 each;
• Repairing and relining the middle school gym, $25,000;
• Installation of a gym curtain at WMS, $14,000;
• A Green Communities program at all three schools, $335,000;
• Replacement of WMS rooftop units, $50,000;
• Installing and cleaning ceiling fans at all three schools, $25,000;
• Replacement of exterior doors with a card-reading system for added security, $16,000;
• Loop driveway at the rear of WMS, $16,000;
• Crack, seal and reline playgrounds, $13,000;
• Replacement of Conley and WMS kitchen equipment, $53,000;
• Uninvent replacement in five rooms at WMS, $35,000; and
• Sidewalk replacement at Duval, $20,000.
Other repairs have been prioritized for later years.
Lynam said one of the difficulties in funding repairs to facilities involves the fact that assessments for the regional schools are apportioned based on population. Whitman currently has 59.5 percent of the region’s school population.
“That number has been moving for at least the last eight years,” he said. “We are creating more of the expense and we are paying for more expense of operating the region.”
Savings from energy-saving updates would help, he said.
Sandland said that, with such programs, energy costs would be reduced and budgets will be more manageable.
“When you look at these repairs, you’ve got to keep in mind these buildings are not a lot different from what we do at home,” Lynam said. “What we’re looking at now are the things that need to be done.”
The door lock project, on the other hand, is part of the district’s program to improve school security as well as making any needed repairs, Small said.
Playground and sidewalk repairs are aimed at addressing trip hazards, which cause spikes in insurance premiums. Repairs needed to the roofs at Conley and Duval are to newer sections.
“We’ve complained to the state that [at Duval] here we are, we spend $80,000 on repairs to a roof that you guys funded,” Sandland said, noting a similar problem was encountered at Hanson Middle School. “They didn’t care.”
Salvucci asked that if the total of repairs prioritized for this year — estimated at about $500,000 — could be done, how much time could that buy the town before more work is needed.
Light units and rooftop units have to go out to bid before those details are known, Sandland said.
Whitman’s share ($451,389) of $758,000 repairs to the high school prioritized for the year include (cost estimates below are totals):
• Turf field at the high school, estimated at between $425,000 and $500,000;
• Roadway repairs, $210,000;
• Industrial ceiling fans for heat distribution, $12,000;
• Traffic lighting for safety, $20,000;
• Exterior envelope repairs to composite wall system $25,000;
• Hot water heater replacement, $35,000 as well as
• Replacement of rooftop units, $100,000;
• Window glass replacement, $15,000;
• Energy upgrade, $111,000 for LED lighting in classrooms, $65,000 for LED lighting in computer labs, cafeteria, music suite and gym; and
• Second floor carpet replacement, $45,000.
In other business, the Buildings, Facilities and Capital Expenditures Committee reorganized, renaming Lynam as chairman. Lynam had stepped aside last year after his workload increased after his former assistant Greg Enos had resigned to take a position in Ashland, and a new Finance Committee required his assistance. Wayne Carroll, a DPW Commissioner who had been asked to chair the committee recently announced his decision to step down.
With the hiring of new Assistant Town Administrator Lisa Green, that situation has changed, Lynam said.
“You now have an assistant, that takes a lot of the pressure off your back, and you have the time,” Salvucci said in nominating Lynam for the chairmanship.
Committee member Patrick Fatyol was voted as vice chairman and Salvucci was elected clerk.