New Canaan Public Schools are asking for more than $2.5 million for next year for building improvements and maintenance, according to the Long Term Facilities Capital Plan presented to the Board of Education at its Nov. 19 meeting.
The plan is a wish list of projects. About half of the projects on last year's list were completed.
There are 20 items on the 2013-14 plan, ranging from sealing the cracks in parking lots to energy-efficient lighting to plans for a new auditorium in Saxe Middle School and refurbishing electrical equipment for the fish tanks in the high school's marine biology lab.
The most-discussed item on the list was a request for $175,000 to "hire a designer/architect to produce drawings and specifications for the total renovation of the auditorium" at Saxe. The auditorium has not been upgraded or extensively renovated in the 55 years since it was built.
"It was original with the building. The sound system is basically defunct. There are classes in there," said NCPS Facilities Manager Bob Willoughby in an interview.
At the meeting, board members raised concerns about putting up $175,000 for preliminary work on the project. Member Amy Rochlin was most vocal about concerns with a lack of information about the auditorium project, which was also on the list last year, though it was not funded.
Originally, she said, the board was told "the project would have a total cost of about $600,000. Now it looks like it's far more than that. I want to know why it's that number, and what are we getting for that cost. I'm going to have to start asking for some real meat before we start investing in it."
Willoughby responded that the $175,000 would go toward plans that would provide the meat, but Rochlin was unmoved.
"When we're talking about $175,000 to lead you to $2.5 million, we're going to need as much detail as we can," she said.
Board member Scott Gress agreed that he would want more details about the plan before funding them.
"I've seen the town so many times hire a consultant and not do a project," he said. "So I want to make sure that we're completely committed to the project before we ask for $175,000."
Penny Rashin, also a board member, said she would like to have communication with architects throughout the process so that the building is designed at a level of quality and price with which the board is comfortable.
"I'd like to see the project phased, with reporting back to the Board of Ed. You don't want to just give an architect (free rein) to go out and design, they might design to a level that we're not comfortable with," she said in an interview after the meeting, adding, "We have to do the auditorium; it hasn't been touched since it was built. It wasn't renovated when the rest of Saxe was ... (It needs) upgrades to the sound system, new seating, to be brought up to current codes and be made ADA compliant."
Also in the plan was $1.52 million in energy-efficient upgrades -- new lighting, chillers and boilers. The upgrades would come as part of a state program called the Energy Efficiency Fund, which offers subsidies for large energy-efficient projects. Under the rules of the program, a municipality must get a cost estimate and savings analysis done by an approved outside consultant, and a contract with financial incentives to get the work done is worked out with Connecticut Light & Power.
According to the cost analysis done for the school district, which was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the state would pay for 50 percent of all the upgrades, meaning the cost after subsidies would be about $760,000. Additionally, the new appliances would use less electricity, saving money each year. The estimate of the annual savings for these projects is about $95,000 per year, meaning that the upgrades would pay for themselves in almost eight years, according to the estimates.
These estimates include replacing a chiller at West School that is three years old. According to the plan, doing so is only a "possibility."
Willoughby said the program is a great resource for him as facilities manager and for the school district.
"It's something that's very near and dear to me (that) CL&P offers this incentive money to do projects. I want to continue doing some of this work. Right now, there's a lot of money for lighting. You take something that has three 32-watt bulbs, you put in a reflector and you can do two 28-watt bulbs. That's almost 50 percent savings.
"You do that on a large scale, and it's a pretty nice chunk of change," he said.
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