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Frontier cuts capital requests by $50,000

SUNDERLAND — The Frontier Regional School Department has pulled back on some of its capital projects, eliminating the request for $50,000 in HVAC improvements and $119,000 to pay for track and tennis court repairs.

The adjustments drop the total capital project request for Fiscal Year 2014 from $183,250 to $133,250 for its four feeder towns — Sunderland, Deerfield, Whately and Conway.

The school department altered its requests after three towns — Sunderland, Deerfield, Whately — complained the projects cost too much.

The capital projects are part of a five-year plan to maintain the 1997 renovated building. The adjusted total plan is $1,352,535.

To work out a compromise, Superintendent Regina Nash, Frontier Regional School Principal Martha Barrett and Frontier and Union 38 Schools Facilities Manager Bob Lesko began lobbying the individual towns this week.

On Monday, the school leaders met with the Sunderland Board of Selectmen. On Tuesday, the Deerifield selectmen and Finance Committee said they may consider a tax override.

The capital requests include $67,500 for safety and security updates, $5,750 for electrical improvements, $30,000 for the replacement of a maintenance pick-up truck and $30,000 for a student transport van.

The four town assessments for the capital improvements have decreased accordingly.

Conway will be asked to pay $17,242. Deerfield will be asked to pay $60,295. Sunderland will be asked to pay $35,058 and Whately will be asked to pay $20,653.

The original requests were $23,712 for Conway, $82,921 for Deerfield, $48,213 for Sunderland would and $28,404 for Whately. The numbers are based on the five-year rolling average of student population.

To pay for the HVAC improvements and track and tennis court repairs, the school department will look for other funding sources.

Nash said she will request community preservation money from Deerfield to cover the tennis court costs. Of the four towns, Deerfield — particularly its town recreation department —uses the tennis courts most frequently.

And the school department will hold off on the track repairs for one year in the hopes of acquiring community preservation funds for that project as well.

This would effectively eliminate the request for $119,000, which was proposed as an article separate from the 5-year capital plan.

The school leaders will also work with the towns to see if they can use Green Communities grant money to cover the HVAC projects, which include upgrading the classroom unit ventilators and replacing the main three-way valve boiler room. The school would look to get an energy audit.

The $50,000 drop in requests moved the Sunderland town leaders at least closer to a deal with the school.

Last week, the Sunderland Selectmen indicated they would only consider requests related to safety and security. The Deerfield Capital Planning Committee recommended only funding $14,000 of its original $82,921 share to cover safety and security updates. While the Whately Capital Planning Committee recommended to fund its share of the Frontier plan excluding the $30,000 pickup truck request.

The decisions are not final yet. The town finance committees and selectmen have to make a final recommendation.

However, putting the school capital requests before the townspeople at town meeting is optional.

According to Sunderland Town Administrator Margaret Nartowicz, town counsel said the “Board of Selectmen is not obligated to place a capital article on the town meeting warrant.”

Based on the original 1954 Frontier agreement, the four towns are obligated to pay for the $9,855,695 operating budget for next year. But there is no mention whether they have to fund capital requests. This is the first time Frontier had put forth capital requests.

“Why now?” Nash asked. “Renovation to the school was 15 years ago. In the 12 years, I’ve been here, we have never asked for any money for capital improvements. We’re getting to the point that Frontier also needs help. It’s really the age of the building that is making the determination.”

The Frontier School Department wants to maintain the building and complete the projects before they worsen and become more costly.

“Most of these items won’t go away and probably will get worse. And I doubt they’ll get cheaper,” said Frontier School Comittee member Lynn Cook.

The Sunderland leaders agreed to put the school requests on the warrant.

“I would say there has to be a level of professional respect. I’d vote to put it on. It’s been the prerogative of us if someone requests something we put it on. Frontier is part of our community,” said Selectmen Chairman Thomas Fydenkevez.

The Selectmen’s only wish, however, is that the Frontier School Committee communicated beforehand their need for capital money.

“We asked for years for the town administrator to meet with the superintendent to discuss things that come up over the year,” Fydenkevez said. “If we had known about the capital requests we could have offered advice and tried to find funding sources. We have asked over the years to be a partner.”

Similarly, the Deerfield Board of Selectmen recently decided to organize a June meeting with the neighboring towns and school committee to discuss school budget concerns for next year.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at:
kmckiernan@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261 ext. 268.

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