School board green-lights $1.7 million in capital upgrades
The Ridgefield Board of Education gave a thumbs up for $1,665,078 in capital improvements — major upgrades of infrastructure or equipment that cost more than $50,000 — for the 2019-20 school year at the board’s Dec. 10 meeting.
The request will now go to the Board of Selectmen, who can add or delete projects by line item. It will then be passed on to the Board of Finance for review — along with capital requests from the rest of the town agencies — before it is passed along to voters for the annual town budget vote.
The money would cover the cost of 11 enhancements bundled as six total projects.
The lowest-priority upgrade, replacing computer network switches across the district for an estimated $466,000, raised some eyebrows at the board meeting for the age of the outgoing equipment.
“When you have switches that are 17 years old, you do feel like you should put everything forward,” said board member Fran Walton.
Asbestos removal, a multi-year project at Scotland and Branchville elementary schools, also drew brief discussion from the board.
Removing and replacing asbestos tile at Scotland is expected to cost $121,900 next year, the third year of the project at that school.
“After this we still have more to do in the asbestos project … and what is there is contained?” asked board member Carina Borgia-Drake.
“Correct,” said Facilities Director Joe Morits, to both questions. He said only part of the project at each school can be completed in the summer.
“They have to do it in segments because of the workload during the summer,” he told the board.
Board member Sharon D’Orso pointed out that the board could ask for the full cost of the project — $483,350 — “but the reality is you cannot do that.”
“Between reporting, testing, it’d be very tight,” he explained.
For that reason, the schools have never decided to do the whole project over one summer, D’Orso said.
Bathrooms or carpeting?
D’Orso also asked whether the board should consider upgrading bathrooms at Ridgefield High School, rather than replacing carpet flooring in the school’s library.
Upgrading the high school bathrooms’ fixtures and tiling was not included in the capital request for the 2019-20 school year, but it has been on the capital improvements to-do list for the past six years.
The project would be divided up across three years, with a total cost of $435,000 — $145,000 per year.
The carpet replacement, which was included in the capital request for 2019-20, is projected to cost $62,320.
“I just want to make sure that there’s bathrooms that are functional at the high school,” said D’Orso. “My understanding is that there’s oftentimes that there’s not even — I don’t know that this is accurate — but doors on some of the bathroom stalls in some of the bathrooms.”
Morits said it’s up to the school to file maintenance requests for bathrooms to be fixed.
“As soon as we get the request for repair those are taken care of,” Morits said. “We’re at the mercy of whoever files that maintenance request.”
He said the bathrooms are functional, and that the upgrades will fix aesthetics, like surface finishes.
“They’re aged out, they’re original to the building — the tile, the grout, the partitions,” Morits said.
In the end, the board did not decide to add the cost of upgrading the high school bathrooms in, and left the library carpet replacement in the request.
Appetite for spending
Board Chairwoman Margaret Stamatis asked how Morits and Dr. Robert Miller, the district technology director, arrived at the $1.6 million figure for the 11 capital improvement projects.
“Was it just based off the priorities of the bundling, or did you have a target number in mind that you felt that perhaps the Board of Selectmen from past experience might be willing to look at?”
“A little of both,” Morits said.
He told the board the goal is to keep the number within $1.5 million.
Stamatis pointed out that they could bring up some of the older items that have been on the list for years, but that would increase the cost, possibly up to as much as $2 million.
“When the town sees it, I don’t think they would have the appetite for $2 million,” Morits said.
The board voted unanimously to send the $1.6-million request on the selectmen.