Bond Or Budget? Public to Decide How to Fund Roof Repairs
BOE vows district roofs will be fixed, whether Dec. 11 referendum passes or not.
The Westfield Board of Education has made it clear that, within the next several months, the district will take the necessary steps toward replacing a substantial portion of the roofs on all district buildings.
Over the next 14 days, the residents of Westfield can make a final decision on how the district will pay for those repairs.
After 10 months, a dozen public presentations and countless hours of planning and number-crunching, the oft-discussed roof repair issue will have a more definitive future after a Dec. 11 bond referendum is decided. Board members have stressed that the capital project has reached the level of district necessity, with the only remaining issue being how the town decides to fund the $13.5 million investment.
“Whether or not the bond passes, the roofs are getting done,” Board President Richard Mattessich said at the Board’s public meeting last night. “It’s just a question of how painful [the payment of] it is to the school system.
“The roofs do need to get done,” Mattessich added. “I think that is something that sometimes gets lost in the conversation.”
On Dec. 11, the public will be faced with two options of paying for the roof repair: approve the $13.5 million bond, or ask the Board to clear millions of dollars from the district operating budget for at least the next three years. Finding the necessary space in the budget would require the Board to cut academic and athletic programs, increase class sizes, and reduce staff and faculty. The changes would be imminent, enacted beginning in the 2013-2014 school year.
The state provides school districts with the ability to fund capital projects, and districts have traditionally applied for state aid to help pay for them. However, due to economic constraints in recent years, states have stopped distributing such aid. This has sent districts seeking alternative routes – such as public bond referendums – to receive approval and fund large-scale projects. Low interest rates have also given districts an incentive to go out to bid as soon as possible.
The public was presented with a $16.9 million bond referendum earlier this fall that would have enabled the Board to potentially replace all district roofs during the summer of 2013. However, that bond was handily defeated, largely because the single referendum sought to fund two capital projects – the roof repairs as well as a lighted turf field. The December referendum, which would be used only to pay for the roof project, seems to have greater support both among Board members and the public.
A bond approval next month would allow the district to authorize its architect to prepare bid specifications for the most prioritized buildings, according to a presentation last night from the Board’s Business Administrator Dana Sullivan. The high school roof carries the most expensive price tag – an estimated $4,032,771 – and is also the building most in need of repair. In addition to the high school, two other schools could also be completed during the summer of 2013. The remaining buildings would be completed during the summer of 2014.
In total, 77 percent of district building roofs are in need of replacement – a total of about 420,000 square feet. The total cost is an estimated $13,567,026. The bond would be repaid over a 20-year period, which is the estimated useful life of the roofs.
Should the bond fail, the Board will have to reallocate approximately $4 million from the 2013-2014 budget in order to pay for the roof repair. It would also delay all roof construction until the summer of 2014, Sullivan said. The reallocations would have to be maintained for at least the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years in order to complete the projects. Though the district’s reserve accounts may be used to fund parts of the roofing project, other maintenance projects would likely have to be delayed or canceled as a result.
Budget reductions would most likely impact fine arts and athletic programs; technology and STEM initiatives; and maintenance to facilities. Sullivan said the $4 million reallocations would also lead to potential staff reductions, including teachers at every school and grade level; counselors; secretaries; paraprofessionals; custodians; administrators; and librarians.
Board members said that similar reductions in staff and programs were made four years ago when the district lost substantial state aid, and that another round of cuts would be even more difficult because the district has not fully recovered from those cutbacks.
“It was devastating,” Board member Jane Clancy said of prior district cuts. “To lose [those programs and staff positions] again would be heart-wrenching.”
Board member Ann Cary said that, though roofs themselves may not be something parents are passionate about, the programs that may be lost as a result of budget reallocations are certainly reasons for the public to care about the bond referendum. Cary asked her fellow Board members to spend the next two weeks communicating to district parents the importance of next month’s vote.
Polls will open for the bond referendum vote at 7 a.m. on Dec. 11 and remain open until 9 p.m.
Additional information on the referendum can be found here.
The Board’s next meeting will also take place on Dec. 11.