Published September 26, 2019


NORTH READING — Over the next five years, large capital requests for the schools will total nearly $3 million, according to Director of Finance and Operations Michael Connelly who presented the large capital five-year request summary, with particular focus on Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21), to the School Committee at its September 9 meeting.

Connelly began his presentation with an overview of the projects approved for Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20).

“As you may recall we received a $60,000 allotment for technology,” Connelly said. “This was part of the 1:1 rollout.”

Other FY20 approved projects included a new special education van and a new fire panel at the Hood School.

Additional programs for FY20 included grant-funded school security upgrades and student computers, an Eagle Scout Project storage shed at the Hood School, and a Food Services vehicle funded by the Food Services Revolving Account. These programs were not funded by the town’s capital accounts.

According to Connelly, over the next five years the large capital requests will total $2,995,000, with $265,000 allotted for necessary vehicle replacements, $255,000 for technology, and $2,475,000 for anticipated facilities needs.

The ask for FY21 will be $335,000.

Connelly reminded the committee that the school district breaks down its large capital plan into three categories: technology, vehicles, and facilities. “A project qualifies if it’s greater than a $25,000 cost and has a useful life of five years or more,” Connelly explained.

Technology requests

“We are requesting $45,000 to replace instructional equipment in the classrooms at all three elementary schools. These requests would involve the desktop machines in the classrooms, the Smartboards, and in some cases, the overhead projectors in the classrooms,” Connelly said. “These units at the elementary level, many of which are over 10 years old, certainly are reaching the end of their useful life and are in need of replacement.”

Connelly noted that the need is actually greater than $45,000, but the district is trying to spread out the expense over a number of years while also exploring other funding options, such as grants and other operating budgets.

According to Connelly, Dan Downs, the district’s Director of Digital Learning, has been exploring ways to bring the latest technology to the district.

“There are more technology options out there that essentially would almost be like an all-in-one (unit). You can purchase an interactive touch screen that the teacher would have the ability to cast from their laptop directly or through an HTMI port connection,” Connelly said. “That would eliminate the need for having a desktop computer in the classroom, the overhead projector, and an interactive Smartboard.”

Connelly stated that this approach may be more expensive, so the district is planning to pilot the all-in-one units in targeted classrooms to train teachers.

“Are there significant numbers of classrooms that have just nonfunctioning boards currently?” asked committee member Rich McGowan.

Connelly stated that all of the equipment is currently functioning, however school operating budgets are often being used to repair the existing equipment, most notably the projectors.

Future technology needs will focus on maintaining and replacing computers across the district.

Vehicle needs

“We have a fleet of about eight vehicles. We have four special education student service vans. We have the two building and grounds pickup (trucks) for our maintenance and grounds staff. We have the food service van to satellite food among the elementary schools, and then we have the multifunction activity vehicle, which is used by our athletic programs, our fine arts programs, and extracurricular activities,” Connelly said.

The FY21 vehicle request will be for $55,000 to replace the building and grounds Ford F-350 pickup truck. The current truck was purchased in 2009 and is used daily for snow removal and sanding during the winter months.

“We’ve had to make more costly repairs to this vehicle given its heavy usage and the sanding. There’s some rust that is evident, and we feel like it’s come time that it does need to be replaced,” Connelly said.

Future vehicle needs include a second multifunction activity vehicle in FY22, and the replacement of the 2011 special education van in FY23.

Facilities plans

“There’s a high level of focus at the elementary schools in terms of what needs to happen (from) the large capital perspective on our facilities,” Connelly said.

There are four requests for FY21 including the replacement of an accessibility lift at the Hood School ($35,000), paving at the Little School ($100,000), HVAC upgrades at the Little School ($65,000), and compliance upgrades for the middle/high school softball field ($35,000).

According to Connelly, the district is also researching projects that will enhance energy efficiency across all of the schools, such as LED lighting upgrades and solar power.

Future projects included demolition of the modular units at the Hood School (FY22), replacement of the boilers at the Hood School (FY22), Batchelder School rooftop units (FY23 and FY25), Hood School roof restoration (FY23), asbestos mitigation at the Little School (FY24 and FY25), modular unit removal and replacement at the Little School (FY24), Hood School and Little School energy management upgrades (FY25), and wastewater treatment plant equipment replacement (FY25).

School Committee Chairman Scott Buckley inquired as to whether state funding would be available for the boiler and roof restoration projects at the Hood School.

“They would. Both projects qualify under the MSBA’s Accelerated Repair Program, which is what the Little School roof operated under,” Connelly said.

According to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) website, the Accelerated Repair Program is primarily for the repair and/or replacement of roofs, windows, doors, and/or boilers with the potential to include additional systems as may be determined by the MSBA contingent upon available funding in the capital pipeline. The program focuses on the preservation of existing assets by performing energy-efficient and cost-saving upgrades, which result in direct operational savings for school districts.

The MSBA program requires districts to use pre-selected consultants and appropriate funding quickly in order to adhere to an accelerated project schedule.

The five-year plan slated funding for the Hood School boilers to be requested for FY22, while funding for the Hood School roof would wait until FY23.

“Would it be advantageous to do the two projects (in) one fell swoop?” committee Vice Chairman Janene Imbriano asked.

Connelly stated that it was something to explore, however he was concerned the expense would be too great.

The committee thanked Connelly for all of his efforts in putting together the five-year plan.

The School Committee will vote on this five-year plan at its Monday, October 7 meeting to be held prior to October Town Meeting at the Daniel H. Shay Performing Arts Center.