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School board seeks to spend surplus on roofs

January 1, 2011

How the school's bond surplus will be spent is to be discussed Jan. 10.

The first fruits of the projected $6.2 million surplus on the 2008 school bond will be directed to a pair of roofs if the School Committee has its way.
The committee voted unanimously last week to request permission from the Town Council to appropriate $1,813,500 for roof replacement work at East Greenwich High School and $225,000 for roof repairs at Frenchtown Elementary School.

The request is expected to be on the council agenda at its next meeting Jan. 10.
The roof repairs were recommended by the town School Building Committee, which met last night and presented four recommendations to the School Committee. While the roof repair requests will go forward, the School Committee did not take action on two high school projects: $650,000 to upgrade technology and $500,000 to modernize its library.
And still lurking in the background is a potential $4 million roof and floor project for Meadow Brook Elementary School, which School Committee Chairman Deidre Gifford plans to have her board vote upon in January.
Building Committee Chairman Jay Gowell and Jonathan Winokur of school project construction firm SBS presented their case for the roof repairs as a necessity, given the age and condition of the roofs at EGHS and Frenchtown.
“This is not something new,” said Gowell, citing his board’s inclusion of the roofs in two bond proposals that were rejected by the council before it agreed to put the eventual $52 million bond, featuring construction of a new Cole Middle School, before voters two years ago. The reduced bond won approval after a larger one was rejected at the polls in 2004.
The Building Committee was willing to spend about half of the projected surplus on its recommended projects, with the roofs getting the highest priority.
“They’re saturated, and they’re past their useful life,” Gowell said.
Winokur presented roof replacement recommendations based on two infrared studies conducted by different roofing contractors in 2006 and 2009. The high school work targets nine of the roof’s 12 sections, with one 20-year-old section rated poor and the other eight, all 15 years old, rated fair. While much of Frenchtown’s roof was replaced in 1998, one 22-year-old section was rated poor.
A recent tour of the high school, including the roof, by Building Committee and council members found some contention about the amount and number of leaks.
“For normal people to look at a roof and say whether it’s leaking is difficult. But you can see leaks on the inside and brown stains on the ceiling and running down walls,” said Winokur.
Building Committee members also cited concerns about leaks in the newly renovated guidance suite, part of the work on the administrative wing of the high school that was completed over the summer.
“You’re recommending we repair the fair and the poor, and recommending some anticipatory repair,” said Gifford.
The School Committee’s motion to replace the roofs did not include the high school technology and library components.
“I’d like to see a more robust presentation on the other two sections,” Gifford said.
The day of reckoning on Meadow Brook is drawing near, however.
“I think we have the data we need to make a decision on Meadow Brook. We can do it in January,” said Gifford.
Deterioration of floor tiles and HVAC issues, in addition to roof problems, have created conditions at Meadow Brook which School Committee Vice Chairman Robert Durant likened to “a rain forest” and prompted talk of closing the school over the past several months. Recent space studies and enrollment projections, however, have convinced school officials the building cannot be closed unless a new school is built in its place. Gowell estimated the cost of a new school to replace Meadowbrook at about $15 million.
“We need the square footage. We need the classrooms,” Gowell said.
The school bond includes $1 million for Meadow Brook repairs, which would require another $3 million in surplus funds.
Gowell conceded that his board lacks a consensus for action on Meadow Brook, even though most of its roof is rated poor.
“Maintenance is keeping ahead of it for now, but if we’re not fixing the floor, why should we fix the roof?” he asked.
“I’d hate to put $3 million into that building and have it fail within ten years,” said School Committee member Mary Ellen Winters.
Durant, however, felt there’s still plenty of life in the 40-year-old building.
“You’re going to have to fix the roof at Meadow Brook because we’re going to have it for 30 years,” he said.

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