Capital items: Schools ask for $1.6 million in infrastructure improvements

The school security network is so old school officials worry a hardware failure could delay a police officer’s ability to enter the high school or Scotts Ridge Middle School — or might keep the district’s new array of security cameras from storing their digital tapes.

Updating the security network is the second-highest priority on the list of capital improvement projects for the 2019-20 school year. All told the infrastructure and facilities upgrades are expected to cost $1,665,078. The capital budget requests will be scrutinized through a budget process that involves review by the Board of Education, the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance — and, eventually, town voters.

School facilities director Joe Morits presented the list of 11 requests, bundled into six projects, at the Nov. 26 Board of Education meeting.

Dr. Robert Miller, the district technology director, said the district needs to replace 11 Avigilon brand computer servers that help manage school security systems. Replacing the servers is second on the district’s list of priorities, and at $167,800, is the cheapest item on the list.

“If that server were to go down, access would be limited to hard key access only,” Miller said.

If police had to respond to an emergency, he told the board, an officer could still gain access to the building, but he or she would have to use a lock-and-key rather than the electronic ID badge the schools give to officers.

The servers also store footage from surveillance cameras around the district.

“Several times this year the district lost the security server at one school due to hardware failure and critical camera footage could not be retrieved upon request,” Miller wrote in his presentation to the board.

Part of the problem is that the schools simply have more cameras than the current system can manage — especially since more were added as part of a capital improvement request last year.

“It all comes back to the capacity and the age of the equipment,” said Miller.

Oil tanks and asbestos

At the top of Morits’ priority list are three environmental projects — the removal of underground oil storage tanks at East Ridge Middle School and Veterans Park Elementary School, and the removal of cracked asbestos tiling at Scotland Elementary School.

The oil tanks at East Ridge and Veterans Park are both buried under asphalt, and will have to be excavated, removed, and closed off. Both are approaching the end of their 30-year lifespan, and have to be removed to keep the district in compliance with state environmental regulations.

Board member Jonathan Steckler asked if the asbestos was “uncontained,” something he’d heard Morits say during an earlier meeting.

“They’re all contained, it’s just the cracking … nothing that I know of is friable…,” he said.

The plan calls for replacing the old cracking asbestos tile with new vinyl flooring tile. It is the third year of the project, and would mostly focus on classrooms “where the asbestos tile has been undermined from frequent floor cleaning and maintenance,” Morits said in his report.  

The removal of the two oil tanks is expected to cost $65,000. The replacement of the asbestos flooring would cost $121,900.

Lights and freezers

Third on the list of priorities is brightening up Branchville Elementary School with new LED lights inside, and replacing walk-in freezers at Farmingville and Branchville elementary schools.

Morits said he plans to change 728 lights in classrooms, hallways, and common areas at a cost of $208,277. Eversource has offered an incentive of $11,804, once the project is complete.

The new lights would also cut the amount of electricity the school uses.

“We always look for energy efficiency because of our large energy footprint,” Morits said.

Replacing the walk-in freezers at Branchville and Farmingville will also reduce the amount of water used by the schools, Morits said, because the current freezers use well water to cool the condenser units. The project will cost $279,477.

Morits said that the Branchville freezer ran the school’s well dry, due to a bad valve on the condenser.

“‘The more modern units are put outside and air cools them,” Morits said.

Gym floor, leaky entrance

The capital improvements request also includes money to sand, refinish, and paint the court of the main gym at the high school.

At the beginning of November, a sprinkler in the gym burst, Morits explained, covering the wood floor with hundreds of gallons of water, and causing the boards to buckle in some areas.

The gym resurfacing will cost around $56,950.

Also bundled with that project is the integration of the high school auditorium lighting systems, which is expected to cost $182,366.

The schools also want to replace the carpet in the high school library, which has been there since 2002, at a cost of $62,320.

“It is an eyesore. It’s been professionally cleaned many times … but it’s just not coming back to life,” Morits said.

There’s also a request for $55,000 to replace the leaky front entrance vestibule at Barlow Mountain Elementary School.

“Every time that it rains — and I’m sure it’s doing it right now — it floods,” Morits said, as rain lashed the windows outside the meeting.

Replacing the entranceway caught the attention of board Vice Chairman Doug Silver.

“Do you want to talk a little about why vestibules are important at our schools?” he prompted Morits.

“Vestibules harden the front entrance to our schools,” Morits said, because visitors have to stop before they have access to the rest of the building.

Scrubbers, switches

Morits also wants to replace two of the five trucks the facilities department uses for grounds maintenance, a cost of $57,500.

The 2006 truck the department uses for heating and cooling work has become a “maintenance nightmare,” Morits said.

He also wants to replace the Ford F-250 the groundskeeper uses to help plow out the school parking lots during heavy storms, which racked up a $4,300 bill at the dealership for work on its suspension and transmission.

Morits said he also wants to replace the floor maintenance machines throughout the district, some of which have been in service for over 25 years. That’s expected to cost $150,755.

In addition to replacing the 11 Avigilon servers, Miller said he also wants to replace computer network switches throughout the district — some of which are 17 years old.

The project is last on the list of priorities, and at an estimated $466,000, is also the most expensive.

“I’ve never seen 17-year-old switches function the way these have,” said Miller.

His main concern are the network switches at Scotts Ridge Middle School and Ridgefield High School. Like the servers, if the switches were to fail, they could disable the school computer networks, including security cameras, door access, and facility controls, said Miller.  

“Joe, I think you’re doing a great job keeping the facilities going, but I would like a line item for glue and Bandaids,” said board member Jim Keidel.

“Bandaids for me?” Morits asked.

“And duct tape,” he added.