Although the Warwick School Committee was scheduled to begin hearing budget presentations by department at its meeting Tuesday night, discussion of a bid related to the replacement of the roof at Warwick Veterans Memorial High School dominated the meeting.
A recommendation to award the re-roofing contract to the lowest qualified bidder, Commercial Roofing and Construction, Inc. (CRCI) out of Putnam, Conn., for $2,209,000 was initially rejected by a 3-2 vote, with committee chairwoman Bethany Furtado and Terri Medeiros voting in favor of awarding the bid.
Following discussion of the importance of getting the roof replaced in a timely manner, a motion was made and approved to reconsider the bid at the April 16 School Committee meeting, at which time the committee also plans to approve the fiscal year 2015 school budget request to be sent to the city for approval.
Prior to the vote, Paul Jansson, assistant director of buildings and grounds, explained why the roof should be repaired sooner rather than later.
“The roof is in horrendous shape; waiting another year adds more of a risk, which we shouldn’t take,” Jansson said. “Mold is a great concern, but the biggest problem is the roof is beyond its life expectancy.”
“It’s like the rain forest café,” Vets Principal Gerald Habershaw said yesterday on a tour of the building. Apart from what needs to be done to collect water whenever it rains, Habershaw is especially about placing the school’s accreditation in jeopardy.
“The roof has to be done or we’re going to be placed on warning status,” he said of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
Jansson said the roof should have been replaced three years ago but the funds weren’t available.
“In May of 2011, CRCI was declared the low bidder for Toll Gate, Warwick Neck and Veterans roofing projects,” he said. “Toll Gate and Warwick Neck proceeded and were successfully completed. Funding for Veterans was transferred to initiate the fire code improvement projects.”
Jansson said CRCI’s bid for Vets, at that time, was $1,989,000, which he said CRCI agreed to uphold. However, the original bid did increase due to building code changes since 2011.
“During the time since the original bids, the R.I. Building Code changed the energy performance requirements,” Jansson said. “The new requirements add 1 inch polyisocyanurate insulation over the entire roof, which covers more than 160,000 square feet, and enlarging the roof edge blocking as well as the roof edge metal to accommodate the added insulation depth.”
Jansson said CRCI proposed an offer to honor their original bid plus a change order in the amount of $220,000 for the cost of the code-required changes, for a total bid award of $2,209,000.
“If the roof gets compromised further, we could be looking at $5 million instead of $2 million,” warned Superintendent Richard D’Agostino. “I would rather fix it now to avoid further compromise.”
Committee member Karen Bachus said she would support making emergency repairs to the roof if required but preferred to the hold off on the roof replacement until the committee hears from the consultant it plans to hire to examine the district and develop a long-term plan with regard to consolidation.
David LaPlante, director of buildings and grounds, said the longer the bid approval is delayed, the further construction gets pushed back. He said depending on how far back it gets pushed, work may not be able to be completed over the summer and could extend into next spring.
“We’re now a week further [away],” he said. “If we have a dry summer, we could end up ahead [of schedule], but you just don’t know what you’re going to get.”
Jansson said the plan is to start construction next month. He said if the committee wished to put the project out to bid, the process would have to be restarted from scratch and could take at least six months, since the engineering work for the project had already been completed with the current bid proposal.
Chief Budget Officer Anthony Ferrucci explained that because the $1.7 million budget surplus he projects the department to end the year with had been earmarked for the Vets re-roofing project, the department was moving forward with the project and just needed final bid approval from the committee for work to start in May, which the department hoped to receive at Tuesday’s meeting.
Ferrucci said an additional $500,000 of bond money left over from capital improvement projects already completed under budget would be used to make up the difference to complete the re-roofing project. He said the $500,000 wouldn’t need to be spent until the fall but reiterated that construction can’t begin until the bid is approved.
Committee member Jennifer Ahearn said she had concerns about where the school department allocates its funds.
“If we don’t get more funding from the city, we’ll end up funding buildings at the expense of educating children, and I can’t stand behind that,” she said.
Furtado said the problem with allocating budget surplus funds toward educational programs, such as all-day kindergarten, is that eventually the money will run out.
Ferrucci said he’s tried the past couple of years to get the point across that it’s risky for the school department to continue to rely on a budget surplus that carries over every year and earmark it for programs that it expects to run every year because when the surplus runs out, the department will experience a deficit because it will still need to run the program but the money will no longer be available. He said it’s much wiser to allocate it to non-reoccurring expenses, such as capital projects, which is why he advocated to earmark the projected $1.7 million surplus for the new Vets roof.
Committee member Eugene Nadeau said he would also like to see more financial support from the city.
“Let the city take care of the roof and answer to the students if they don’t release us from being responsible for paying the principal and interest on the 2006 bonds, which costs us $14 million,” he said, referring to the an agreement between the school department and the city administration whereby the city agreed to release bond funds approved by voters in 2006 so long as the school department agreed to absorb the principal and debt interest on the bond money. “For them to force us to take responsibility to replace the roof and pay for the bonds is wrong – it has to stop,” Furtado countered.
“We entered into the agreement and we did the deal, so we have to live with the consequences at this point,” she said. “The students are entitled to a safe and appropriate area where they can learn and it’s our responsibility to provide that.”
Medeiros said it was important not to let the disagreements between the city and the schools impact the students.
“Something that sits before all of us is there are issues between the city and the school, but it’s not appropriate to put the students in the middle of it, and that’s what we just did,” she said.
Furtado was upset the bid was rejected.
“As a committee and a group of five, we determined not to take action on the consolidation plan that was presented to us, with the expectation that Vets would remain open and by not taking action tonight, we’re impacting the students that receive an education at Vets,” she said. “The roof leaks and needs to be repaired and it needs to happen now. I leave it to the three of you to explain to the teachers, students and parents if accreditation becomes an issue.”
Not only do school officials have safety concerns regarding the current roof condition, but Dennis Mullen, director of secondary education, said the department also runs the risk of Warwick Vets losing accreditation from NEASC. He explained that in 2008 the school was told it could lose accreditation or be put on probation if the roof situation isn’t addressed.
Mullen said the next NEASC study is scheduled for 2016. At an earlier committee meeting, he explained that if the school lost accreditation, colleges and universities would be unwilling to recognize diplomas of students that graduated from the school.
Nadeau said no one loves Vets more than he does, adding that the roof will be put on.
“I guarantee it,” he said. “It may take a month or two, but there has to be an accounting by the city and they need to realize they’re putting the school department in jeopardy.”
Furtado said city officials got upset when the school committee was considering the consolidation plan to close Aldrich and Gorton junior highs and move those students to a super junior high at a re-purposed Vets building, with Vets students being split among Pilgrim and Toll Gate.
“If the City Council wants those buildings open, then they should fund it,” she said angrily.
If the bid is ultimately rejected, Ferrucci said the department loses the ability to sway the community on what its needs are.
“We need to ask the city for an additional $1.1 million in order to maintain our operating budget. I’m now entering my fourth budget cycle in Warwick and my experience has been that the city will see us asking for $1.1 million and they’ll see our $1.7 million surplus and they’ll tell us to put the surplus back into our budget and then they don’t need to take the debt service off of us,” he said. “We could have shown that we put the [budget] surplus into non-reoccurring [expenses] and that we need $1.1 million or the city needs to take the $1.1 million debt service off of us.”