Editorial: Proceeding with caution seems best for Frontier tackling building issues

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Frontier Regional School officials are making a “stitch in time saves nine” argument to support an estimated $3.4 million renovation plan.

The adage has been around for centuries because it appeals to our common sense. Whether it also applies to regional school spending at this time in southern Franklin County has yet to be shown.

We can’t argue with the premise behind the proposed capital spending laid out recently by Union 38 Superintendent Lynn Carey, who told a gathering of elected officials: “It is very important to our community, to our four towns, that we maintain the integrity of this building.”

Over the years, Carey said, building maintenance has been deferred to prioritize education. Yearly, $60,000 is allotted for repairs, but Carey says that’s not enough, which has led her to advance the idea of a one-time, $3.4 million capital project, to be borrowed and repaid over 10 to 20 years, with work completed over three years.

Among a laundry list of problems school officials cited: A library roof in need of serious repair, old boilers, a deteriorating track, an outdated intercom that doesn’t reach everywhere, faulty smoke detectors, aging mowers, poor parking lot lighting and locks that need to be rekeyed.

“The Band-Aid approach” is not the most cost effective, argued Carey, who is bringing the spending request forward a year after the district paid off loans that funded the school’s $22,350,000 expansion and renovation of more than two decades ago.

In another five years, officials warned, the problems will cost more to fix, even though Director of Facilities Robert Lesko noted the Main Street building has been well maintained with the money that has been made available.

The administrators argued they want to get ahead of the problem, and their elected leaders lauded that sentiment but want to be cautious — which makes lots of sense given the parsimonious inclination of South County taxpayers, especially Deerfield. It took several tries to get that $22 million reconstruction past Deerfield voters, for example.

Jeff Upton of Deerfield’s Finance Committee told the gathering: “I think it’s a good effort, no question about it,” but added “I hope we proceed with caution here and make sure we have a solid plan.”

The advice is sound from a practical point of view and for political and financial reasons.

So, discussion has already turned to alternative funding sources like grants and Community Preservation Act funds. Whately Selectman Fred Orloski said school officials should consider hiring a professional consultant, highlighting difficulties Whately faced garnering support to renovate its historic Town Hall.

Ultimately, no definitive action was taken, although Frontier Regional School Committee is considering whether to form a renovations subcommittee to explore the issue more deeply.

If the building is showing its age, it may very well make sense to head off bigger problems. Some of the items on Carey’s list sound like safety issues that are more important today than they were 20 years ago.

We support creation of a subcommittee to study the administration’s proposal in a thorough and granular way.

That’s the only way Frontier’s elected leaders will convince themselves and then later, their constituent taxpayers, that these repairs and improvements are truly needed to modernize the facility or to prevent more expensive repairs later.