NARRAGANSETT—The Capital Reserve Committee met for the first time Wednesday evening to discuss a number of upcoming capital projects for the schools. The group comprises School Committee and Town Council members, as well as various town staff and two members of the public, and has been formed in order to better implement funding strategies for capital projects.
“Three years ago, the Town Council passed a resolution asking representatives of the School Committee, Town Council, and public to take a look at reserve funds for the school department and how they will be used,” said Narragansett Superintendent Katherine Sipala. “While this is called a Capital Reserve Committee, it is really about capital improvements and the reserve we keep for them.”
Sipala highlighted the three specific purposes for the Committee in making its recommendations to the Town Council, which were drafted in the November 24, 2009 resolution; Asset protection and management, application toward the next operating budget, and [use of the] Reserve Fund for emergencies.
The Committee focused its discussion Wednesday evening on a number of capital projects which have been scheduled for the school and overall town budget in Fiscal Year 2013. Peter Scalora, a member of the town’s Building Advisory Board, discussed the School Committee’s reasoning for including the capital projects, such as improvements at the Narragansett High School gymnasium, in the town budget.
“Our Building Advisory Committee advises on the technical and cost aspects of the line items discussed,” said Scalora. “We look at projects, go to the schools and evaluate the viability of projects, and make recommendations for the town of school capital projects which have been developed by private firms.”
“We are really driven to be here by the status of the facilities,” he added. “They are not horrible, but they are not great. Not everybody is smiling coming out of these meetings, and it is difficult [to choose capital projects].”
“Each item has gone under a lot of scrutiny from the Building Advisory Committee, their dollar amounts and their breakdown,” said School Committee Chair Tammy McNeiece. “They have done a lot to get these items on the plan and to get to this draft.”
Major upcoming purchases at Narragansett Pier School include $100,000 for new tile flooring, $20,000 for new corridor lockers at NPS, and $170,000 for heating renovations. $100,000 has been suggested for the purchase of two mini-buses at NES.
“[All the line items] are prioritized, but because everything proposed are amongst all the other capitalized projects within the entire capital plan,” said Scalora. “The new corridor lockers were not replaced as part of the last upgrade, and we are several years past. The new flooring is the continuation of a very successful project. to replace tile which is currently degraded, and we’d like to continue and complete that project in the next few years.”
Scalora also noted that the $170,000 for heating renovations qualifies for the state’s 35 percent reimbursement on planned school capital projects. $255,000 in worth in updates to the gymnasium at Narragansett High School was discussed, as well as $28,000 for heating system improvements. $58,000 has been suggested for new cafeteria flooring, along with $50,000 for new furniture in the library.
“With the furniture, the library is a high-meeting area, and we don’t want people to go in there and sit on a chair that will fall out from under them,” said Scalora. “The gym renovations are a grouping of several projects which I think serve a lot of purposes beyond sports because of the high use of the gym.”
“The gym heating system needs to be done because it could result in failure if it is not,” said Sipala. “It is very cold in the gym now and we have put this off for a long time.”
The Committee also discussed $85,000 allotted for a new server room where all of the school’s data and student information is gathered.
“During the last hurricane, we had problems not being able to access and get to the center of all our information because right now, all of our system equipment is in a large closet,” said Sipala. “We need a dedicated room for the server. The last bond didn’t deal with this at all.”
“Over time, there have been additions, but rather than have this in a closet, it needs to be in one spot and properly air conditioned,” she added. “[The new server] is moving to a room behind the library that will be a technology room.”
Lastly, Scalora outlined $19,500 for improvements to the softball and soccer fields at NHS. The updates have been suggested by Gale Associates, a civil engineering firm out of Weymouth, Massachusetts, which the town hired last summer to conduct an assessment of the athletic facilities at Narragansett’s schools and to create a tangible plan for the town and the public about improvements. The updates were deemed important, but not included in the main plan for the athletic fields.
“Gale Associates’ report has generated a number of ideas,” said Scalora. “In the near term, these projects came out that are nominal in cost, but are good ideas and reflect safety issues and equipment that the report does not plan to fund.”
“[The soccer field improvements] are a safety issue,” said McNeiece. “When kids are playing soccer, they are going into the road, and sometimes when I am driving on South Pier Road, I see a ball go into the road and I have to put on my brakes. That is a safety issue.”
Sipala concluded her discussion on capital improvements with the overall funding intended. In order that all the projects are carried out, Sipala has suggested a $300,000 appropriation from the town.
“We are hoping the council sees fit to appropriate $300,000 to put it towards the total $886,000, and the rest will come from our capital Reserve Fund,” said Sipala. “We keep it year-to-year and get money for it from housing aid. We have left over funds in years that we had a plan, but didn’t fund it.”
“[$886,000 in capital projects] is a pretty hefty number for this year, but there are couple of reasons for this,” she added. “This is the last year that schools will get the state’s 35 percent reimbursement, so this is the year to do these projects. I know it is a big figure, but I hope that the Council can understand.”
Sipala, McNeiece, and School Finance Director Karen M. Hagan stressed the importance of taking advantage of the state’s reimbursement program in FY 2013 to Town Council members present.
“There has been a moratorium put on the reimbursement for the next two years,” said Hagan. “We can still get it if we spend [on capital projects] by FY 2013. If not, we will not get the reimbursement.”
“[The state] has earmarked $200,000 for us, but if we wait past FY 2013, that money is gone, and we will never get that back,” said Sipala.
Town Council member Christopher Wilkens expressed his thoughts on the reimbursement moving forward, cautioning that its implementation once it has been removed may not come back again.
“I don’t see the old rules being where they are for much longer, and I don’t think the reimbursement will last at 35 percent,” said Wilkens. “It makes you nervous.”
Sipala stressed the need to fund the capital projects in order the schools run in a healthy manner.
“We are spending dollars that will truly benefit everyone, adults and children,” said Sipala.