$7.5 million heating-security project proposed for Red Hook schools

A $7.5 million upgrade to the heating systems at Mill Road Elementary School and the security cameras in all Red Hook schools has been presented to Red Hook educators.

Perry Sheldon, the director of facilities for the school district, was flanked by architects and engineers as he explained the basics of the proposal on Feb. 27 to the Board of Education.

The proposed $7.49 million project, which needs voter approval, is primarily a boiler and heating project in the elementary school building. According to Sheldon, the current unit heaters in the elementary classrooms were designed to last 25-to-30 years and were installed in the late 1960s.

“We’re now in excess of 40 years, so we’ve gotten our money’s worth out of the equipment,” he said.

The new classroom ventilators, Sheldon added, will be quieter and more energy-efficient. The original boilers in the building will be replaced and a new digital direct controls system to operate the HVAC will be installed. An abatement of asbestos in the Mill Road Elementary boiler room is planned, to rid the room of the hazardous material.

The security camera system in all the district’s schools would also be revamped and expanded as part of the project. The current cameras, installed around 2000, Sheldon said, can barely capture people’s physical features. The new ones should allow administrators to identify faces and vehicles much more effectively, he added.

Included in the project is a plan to provide wireless Internet access across the district’s schools. And Sheldon said a new district phone system would replace the current one, which is “aging out.” Later this year, he said, parts for the current phone system may not be available any longer. “If you think about how we rely on that asset, we don’t want to be in the position where we can’t get the parts we need to keep our system operating,” he said.

Doors and door hardware — locks, door knobs, etc. – are also expected to be upgraded at district schools as part of the project.

The majority of the work would take place during the summer of 2014, he added, with final boiler room work going through December of that year.

On the issue of the project’s cost, Sheldon said, “Are there less expensive options? Maybe in initial costs there are, but this is what we really think — for the life expectancy and the life term of the investments we’re making – this is the best thing that should be done.”

Red Hook School District Business Manager Bruce Martin suggested that state aid would cover about half of the project’s cost, or roughly $3.61 million. Bond payments toward the district’s share of the cost—about $3.88 million—would begin in the 2014-2015 school year. During the first year, since the project would not yet be completed at the year’s start, payment would be made without the benefit of state aid, Martin explained. With state aid coming in the second year, the payments, to be made over 15 years, would level out at about $250,000 per year.

There was no estimate given for the impact on property taxes.

While the school board did not give formal approval to the project, Kelly Mosher, board president, does support it.

“Although we are sensitive to keeping costs down, we have to maintain our facilities,” Mosher told The Observer. “At some point, the cost of repairs becomes excessive and things need to be replaced. The bulk of the work is at Mill Road school and the boilers and ventilation units being replaced are 45 years old with a 25-30 year life expectancy. The entire system is very inefficient and costing us too much to keep running. So we do feel that it is necessary work that we can’t put off any longer. And we are doing security upgrades that our parents are telling us they support.”

At the meeting, the board did approve a resolution authorizing $4,135.49 for the project’s planning. The Palombo Group, a construction management firm, will be paid $1,354.34; Gheen Engineering is receiving $1,058.00; about $550 is going to Lowe’s; and $256.00 will go to the law firm Girvin & Ferlazzo.

The community vote on the project is scheduled for Tuesday, May 21.

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