When the Timberlane School Board Chairman says the bulk of the board’s work takes place in committee, you should be worried, especially if the October 21st Facilities meeting was typical. I wish I had recorded the meeting because it will be hard for readers to believe how little discussion was given to decisions that involve spending $1.1 million dollars – an 80% increase over the current year’s facilities budget — not counting warrant article requests.
The meeting was called for 8:30 a.m. Before things got underway, I asked for the usual spreadsheet for facilities projects. At this Mr. Stokinger realized that this critical information had not been distributed to the committee so the meeting was delayed while this five-page document was copied. In the meantime, Mrs. Steenson asked me to leave the table as I was not a member of the committee (despite an abundance of empty seats) but as I was moving to the back of the room, she had to ask me to join because they lacked a quorum of school board members in order to begin. Mr. Ward from Sandown arrived very shortly after.
The meeting began 13 minutes late. All the school principals were in attendance along with Dr. Metzler, Mr. Stokinger, Mr. Hughes, Kelly Ward (TRSB), Dennis Heffernan (TRS Budget Committee), a high school administrator (whose name escapes me – apologies) and myself. After the Pledge and approval of the minutes of the first Facilities meeting in September (which I also attended), Mr. Hughes, Director of Facilities, proceeded to run down the spreadsheet list of all the facilities projects he classified as “essential” for the 2015-2016 budget
BUILDING AND SITE RENOVATIONS AND IMPROVEMENTS for 2015-2016 budget, Draft Proposal:
$1,314,910 + $281,323 (press box)
It’s hard to put these numbers in perspective. It’s hard to put any numbers in perspective with a $67 million budget, but let’s start with the proposed press box, just one of two projects not considered “essential” for the next budget year.
The Press Box
Our existing press box needs to be replaced it seems. A new one is wanted in the next two years to facilitate sporting events and to expand the high school’s very limited storage for sports equipment. The replacement is to have an excavated basement with a concrete block tower upon which will rest a prefabricated box. There was some discussion about putting this to warrant, which seemed favored by the group. One elementary school principal asked why such a simple structure should cost so much. Mrs. Steenson pointed out that this was the value of a fairly nice house in Danville. There was no answer to this question because Dr. Metzler jumped in to say it would be embarrassing to ask voters to approve a project and then not have enough money to finish it. Whose embarrassment was not discussed. I had a thousand questions about this structure: would it have bathroom facilities? What is the cost of adding it to our existing septic system? Would it be required to have an elevator to be ADA compliant? What equipment exactly would be stored and would it need to be heated? What kind of heat would be needed? A/C? None of these questions were asked, and this was the second most discussed project of the meeting.
Latterly we came to the Maximus Prime of the morning: $500,000 for three electrical transformers. Our current transformers were installed in 1973. Mr. Hughes feels they should be replaced and moved outside in case of failure. The principal of the middle school, Mr. Hogan, said he had never heard of this project before or of the concern. Neither had anyone else on the facilities committee it seemed. Mrs. Steenson said that since this was a safety issue, it should not be left to the voters to decide and must be included in the operating budget. I find the suggestion that voters always put their pocketbooks before the safety of their own children reprehensible, but I limited my comment to the suggestion that this should go to warrant as a capital expense to be paid out of our Capital Fund savings account. No one cared to explore that option.
The Problem of Size
Mrs. Steenson noticed that the proposed budget with the transformer work was doubled last year’s facilities budget (going from $616,000 to $1.3 million). The usual pap was rolled out that our buildings are aging and we have to invest more in them. Then Mr. Stokinger had a suggestion that made me understand why Dr. Metzler calls him the best business administrator in the business: We can keep the budget level funded from last year but explain that we have this major safety issue of half a million. So we really did our job.
Dr. Metzler practically glowed like a bride at this suggestion. Some hurried calculations were done to figure out how much needed to be cut from the proposed “Essential” list to come in at the same number as last year. Mrs. Steenson reminded everyone that there was just 15 minutes left to the meeting. The race was on to find $200,000 in time for the Safety Committee meeting at 10:15 a.m. What proceeded next was the equivalent of Filene’s annual wedding dress sale. Instead of people wildly flinging garments around in a frantic search for the perfect gown, suggestions were thrown out for projects that could be cut.
Here’s what got cut in 15 minutes with the very barest of discussion, if any- all but one of them previously categorized as top priorities for 2015/16:
- Paving left of the concession stand: $10,000
- JV baseball field fencing: $15,000
- Replacement lockers in Middle School wings 1200,1300,1500: $95,000 ( Wing 1100 and center hallway lockers still to be replaced @ $32,000)
- Atkinson Building Management System upgrade : $25,000 (rated as a medium priority)
- Locker room paint job reduced from $65,000 to $35,000
“What’s our total so far?” someone called out. $180,000! $20,000 left!
Through much of this I had my hand raised to suggest striking a new point-of-use hot water system for the Middle School kitchen because I know those systems are not what they are are touted to be, but Dr. Metzler beat me to it and called out something to the effect: “$25,000 for the hot water system and we’re over by $5,000! Good job!”
And that was it. Too bad it didn’t go on for another 15 minutes because here are some of the “essential projects” left in the budget:
- Replace interior doors in the Middle School in wings 1100, 1200, 1300 and men and ladies’s restrooms: $42,810. This, by the way, wasn’t even mentioned on the facilities tour of the MS a few short weeks before. You know how doors are. Working one minute, a safety hazard the next.
- Carpeting for the Special Ed office suite in the Middle School: a whooping $5000
Now the Sales Job
True to form, at the very next budget committee meeting on Oct 23, Mr. Heffernan, Budcom’s rep on Facilities, announced that the Facilities Committee had kept their budget level from last year. Either rehearsed or in a fit of conscience, Mr. Stokinger quickly added that they do have one extraordinary item for $500,000, replacing the Middle School transformers.
And that is the way we roll at Timberlane.
P.S. For the record, I have the highest regard for the principals of all our schools. They are professional, friendly and competent to a person. Nothing above should be understood to be a criticism of them. No principal was eager to take money away from their own school or those of their peers.