WHITMAN — There are three school playground-related articles — Articles 20 through 22 — on the annual Town Meeting warrant, according to Town Administrator Lincoln Heineman.
The three projects total $700,000.
“The schools had requested that those all be in one article,” Heineman told Selectmen at the Tuesday, April 12 meeting. “My recommendation is that, I think they are different things.”
Heineman said there will be plenty of masks and test kits will be available at the Town Meeting, Monday, May 2 but no other COVID-19 protocols are being planned at this time.
There are two different playgrounds at Conley and another at Duval.
“Two [articles involve] entirely new playgrounds and one would be a retro-fit,” he said, leaving it to the Board whether they wanted three articles or one.
The Capital Committee also discussed that there is about a bit more than $250,000 in the Duval roof account that Heineman suggested the funds maybe needed for “incidental, smaller repairs,” but not for a larger replacement because the town would not be eligible for the MSBA’s accelerated roof repair program for at least a few more years.
“Rather than have that money sit there and not be put to good use, we in the warrant apply $235,000 of toward the same building [Duval] for a playground that the schools are indicating is in dire need of replacement,” he said. “There wasn’t any objection to that from the superintendent.”
Selectman Dan Salvucci asked how long the schools could keep the roof repair money and if they could use it for what they want, or do they need the town’s approval.
“It was appropriated for a specific task and they didn’t do it,” he said. “Should that money come back to the town after a certain time?”
Heineman said the town accountant has aggressively looked at capital appropriations more than two years old in every department and asking about the status of projects for which the funds were appropriated.
“If it’s already been done and this is the remainder, fine, great, we’re going to take it back and put it back to free cash so it can be re-appropriated somewhere else,” he said. “That’s an activity we have gone through with the schools and will continue to do so.”
“Why aren’t the schools … on a regular basis, repairing and getting something fixed for $500 instead of $5,000 when they let it go,” Salvucci said. “That’s my question, and probably what I’ll raise at Town Meeting. They need to look at the equipment at each of the schools and maintain them like we do at our town park.”
Selectman Justin Evans, who also serves on the Capital Committee said the Duval playground was installed in 2000 and they have been maintaining. But, he noted, a lot of the maintenance has become a question of if it breaks, you take it out.
The school district had requested an article for $54,002 for mold remediation at Whitman Middle School, but it is not on the Town Meeting warrant. Town officials have stated that they do not view the work as a capital expense.
Heineman noted the School Committee would be discussing the budget the next evening [Wednesday, April 13], with the non-mandated busing issue possibly up for discussion. He noted that Whitman town counsel has opined any change to non-mandated busing should be contained in a warrant article submitted to the town from the schools.
“We don’t know if that may happen tomorrow night,” he said. “We don’t know what the schools may do regarding either the main operating assessment or the current non-mandated busing assessment that is on the warrant, as that is the number right now that is certified by the schools.”
Heineman said he and Selectmen Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski are considering calling a Select Board meeting at 10 a.m., Friday, April 15 to react to whatever action the school takes.
“It makes sense for us to vote our final opinion on the warrant once we have that information from the schools,” Kowalski said.
Selectman Randy LaMattina reminded the board there is now a formula that would save the towns of Whitman and Hanson “considerable amounts of money” in non-mandated busing costs and the state’s reimbursement.
“I think the town of Whitman saves, from just the assessment alone, about $271,000,” he said. The total for the towns of Whitman, Hanson and the district with the assessment change is about $583,000, he said.
“To see the full benefit, we need to see an assessment change,” LaMattina said. “Things are moving in the right direction on that.”
He credited the work School Committee Chairman Christopher Howard has done in trying to work out a solution to the issue.