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Frontier to towns: Reconsider capital projects

SUNDERLAND — Frontier Regional School Superintendent Martha Barrett is asking the towns of Sunderland and Deerfield to reconsider funding their shares of $133,250 in capital projects.

The new superintendent is requesting the boards of selectmen in Sunderland and Deerfield to hold special town meetings to re-vote the request in September.

“I will draft an article for a warrant for a special town meeting requesting the full amount of the supplemental budget,” Barrett said Tuesday.

She hopes to piggyback on a special town meeting in Deerfield and Sunderland expected in September to consider a regional EMS service. The specific date hasn’t been set yet.

The town meetings would occur just as the School Committee holds its four-town meeting on Sept. 12 in the Frontier School Media Center to discuss the budget and regional agreement with its member towns: Whately, Conway, Deerfield and Sunderland.

Though the Sunderland Board of Selectmen suggested the School Committee consider a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion on the capital projects, Barrett said incurring debt is not part of the school’s plan. Barrett and school Facilities Manager Robert Lesko appealed to the board at its Monday meeting.

“We’re not going for a debt exclusion because the school building loan is up in two years,” Barrett said. “The plan was not to incur additional debt until that loan is paid off.”

Barrett added that the School Committee had voted to ask the towns for capital money and not to incur debt. If she changed the funding method, Barrett would have to ask the School Committee to recast its vote.

This spring, the Frontier Regional School Committee introduced its first ever five-year capital improvement plan designed to get ahead on maintenance costs on the building, which was last renovated in 1997. School leaders said building improvement needs are starting to spring up.

But only townspeople in Whately and Conway voted to fund their full shares, with Sunderland and Deerfield supporting only certain safety and security improvements.

The School Committee requested $133,250 for improvement projects. Requests included $67,500 in safety and security improvements, $5,750 in electrical improvements, $30,000 for a maintenance truck and $30,000 for a student transport van.

Conway’s share was $17,242. Whately’s share was $20,653. Deerfield was asked to pay $60,295, while Sunderland was tapped for $35,058.

The projects were originally introduced separate from the operational budget, which requires three of four towns’ approval under the regional school agreement.

“Their (lawyer) says because the capital plan doesn’t fall under the purview of the regional agreement, it needs four towns’ approval,” Barrett said. “At this time, I’ve heard reasonable arguments on both sides. So I’m going for all four towns to support this.”

At its town meeting, Sunderland approved $17,759 for its share of the school building safety and security updates.

But the Sunderland vote was contingent on the three other Frontier towns supporting their shares of the safety and security improvements. Its funding was nullified when Deerfield voted to not fund its full share.

Instead, Deerfield voters took a piecemeal approach. They approved $14,803 in capital requests for new knobs for classroom doors, rekeying exterior doors, and electrical power to the garage.

“Right now, we haven’t been able to do anything because we don’t have full votes on anything but two items,” said Barrett at Sunderland’s board meeting on Monday.

Though the school is asking the townspeople a second time for funding, it will continue to look for other funding alternatives, Barrett said.

Barrett’s biggest concern is the student transport van. The 15-passenger vehicle supports the golf, tennis, cross country and volleyball teams as well as a Connecticut Valley Community Class, which travels twice a week to Old Deerfield. Last year, the van was used for 185 events — 24 trips of which were in September.

With the van’s busiest month approaching in September, Barrett said the school will have to lease a vehicle for the fall. She did not know what the cost would be yet.

Though there is a chance Sunderland and Deerfield voters may not change their minds, Barrett said “we’ll take our chances. People have been supportive of our needs. We just need a funding mechanism.”

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