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$12M needed to repair Amherst’s elementary schools



Staff Writer
Thursday, December 06, 2018

AMHERST — More than $12 million in maintenance and repairs are needed at Amherst’s three elementary school buildings over the next five years, according to a report school officials will submit for the town’s capital planning process.

At a recent Amherst School Committee meeting, Sean Mangano, finance director for the schools, presented a list of $12.38 million in costs over the next five years related to keeping Fort River, Wildwood and Crocker Farm elementary schools in good repair, with nearly half of these expenses for new roofs at the aging Fort River and Wildwood buildings.

The current plan calls for a $3 million roof at Fort River in fiscal 2022, and a $3 million roof at Wildwood in fiscal 2023.

With Town Council replacing Town Meeting as Amherst’s legislature, it will be up to these elected officials to determine what spending is approved in the capital plan for fiscal 2020, which begins July 1.

School Committee Chairwoman Anastasia Ordonez said committee members will need to have a frank discussion with both the new Town Council and Town Manager Paul Bockelman about these maintenance costs, which are in line with an analysis the facilities department released in March.

Ordonez said there is a degree of deferred maintenance at Fort River and Wildwood that needs to be corrected and that conditions, in some cases, have become “borderline dangerous.” Earlier in the fall, the committee got complaints from teachers and staff about conditions in some of the classrooms.

The Joint Capital Planning Committee, which has representatives from the school, town and Jones Library, will make recommendations for the capital program to the Town Council.

These cost estimates for maintenance to the buildings come after Town Meeting twice turned down plans to construct a $66.37 million twin school at the Strong Street site of Wildwood School, which would have replaced both the Wildwood and Fort River buildings. That project would have received $34 million from the Massachusetts School Building Assistance program.

Bockelman said Tuesday that the school needs will go through the same process as in past years, alongside town and library capital projects, equipment and vehicles, and other infrastructure, such as roads. This will play out next spring during consideration of the budget, he said.

The school’s capital project needs also include $400,000 for heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment replacement at both schools in the coming years, $400,000 for Wildwood windows in fiscal 2024 and $470,000 for repairing the Fort River parking lot in fiscal 2021.

There are minimal expenses at Crocker Farm, which was previously renovated.

School Committee member Peter Demling wondered if it would be possible to do patching on the roofs to reduce the large costs and limit use of capital funds.

Committee member Eric Nakajima said no one is going to want to spend the money for a roof if a better project that might include a new building can be obtained.

At the meeting, Superintendent Michael Morris said he doesn’t know whether Amherst will be able to soon get onto the list for state funding.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.