CLARKSBURG, Mass. — A volunteer group is hoping to move forward in making repairs to Clarksburg School, starting with the boilers.
A number of volunteers have met with the Board of Selectmen and more recently with the School Committee. A trimmed-down steering committee appeared before the School Committee on Thursday to ensure it had permission to begin gathering estimates and establishing needs.
"Can we come up with three top priorities, see what we can do and what we have to contract out?" asked Robert Norcross, who's volunteered to lead as organizer and "taskmaster" of the volunteer effort, last week. "I'm looking at possibily in the summer, this could be done."
Voters last fall twice defeated a $19 million renovation and addition to the 70-year-old K-8 school fearing the town could not handle its $7.7 million obligation. A number of vocal opponents to the project felt there was enough experienced volunteer labor to address the significant repair needs. Eric Booth had put together a lengthy list of licensed tradespeople willing to put their experience to use.
Last Thursday, Norcross, David Sherman, Edward Denault, Planning Board member Erin Scott, Town Administrator Carl McKinney, Finance Committee member Mark Denault and Select Board member Kimberly Goodell joined the School Committee for an hourlong discussion of where the school district goes from here.
The group quickly agreed that the obsolete failing boilers and the roof were major priorities. But Principal Tara Barnes also pointed to the early education wing — already 20 years past its expected lifespan — as a serious problem. The wing is deteriorating and rotting, and one of the teachers had recently left a yogurt on the floor overnight and found it frozen solid the next morning.
Norcross, a construction coordinator with the state Department of Transportation's District 1, asked if the town could go back to the Massachusetts School Building Authority for funds for roofs and windows.
Superintendent Jon Lev responded that it was not likely.
"We can apply but they are honest with me that that repair program is for schools that are in good shape," he said. "And because of the feasibility study we turned in, they know there's a lot more need than what we would turn in and we would not qualify."
MSBA has two funding programs: one for addressing educational facilities that are outdated or severely in need of repair and cannot properly serve the educational needs of the students, and an "accelerated repair program" for funding updates for schools in good condition, and especially for roofs, windows and heating systems.
"We, as a building committee, went through two years of this process," Lev said. "We could have asked for a whole new building. If [the MSBA] thought there was support, they probably would have said yes."
Instead, he said, the building committee had tried to keep costs down as much as possible while still addressing space and educational needs as required by the state.
"If the Select Board had said we can't afford this we can't support this, it wouldn't have gone through," Lev said. "It was kind of too late after two years of working on it."
The failure of the school project has been a sore spot for school officials, who have felt town officials did an about face after initially supporting the renovation project. Norcross said he understood the pain of being rejected but hoped that the School Committee would work with the volunteer group to at least begin the necessary repairs.
"We'll just do the best we can," he said. "We know we need millions and we're not going to get it, but we'll do the best we can."
McKinney said the heating system could be funded through the town's Green Communities grant. Clarksburg received $141,590 last year on the five-year grant, which is dependent on the town reducing its energy consumption by 20 percent.
"We might want to consider year two for the roof with a significant insulating factor in it," he said. "That might be able to be slid into year two of the grant."
In either case, the town would have to abide by procurement regulations that set how quotes should be received and range from "sound business practices," to written quotes to formal advertisements based on a project's cost. The costs for Clarksburg would be expected to be lower, in most cases, since they would not include labor.
Norcross agreed that there are other aspects that have to be pinned down, like liability issues related to volunteers working on the public building, which would have to be checked by legal counsel.
Volunteers are not prohibited from working on public buildings, although the Office of the Inspector General cautions that volunteer labor does come with certain drawbacks of which communities should be aware
Scott and Barnes questioned how the early education wing would be dealt with since the renovation plans had called for it to be demolished and rebuilt. Kindergarten teacher Kathy Howe reminded them that the new wing would have had a preschool, something the town had shown it wanted.
The cost of rebuilding the wing would likely require Proposition 2 1/2 override, said McKinney. The group thought they should focus on the things that could be done before asking voters for money.
"Naysayers aside, the reality is we still have a building we're responsible for," Denault said. "We have to look at next year's budget. Clearly the town is in trouble but maybe there are way to do something. It is on the minds of the Finance Committee, we are aware that the school needs repairs."
Norcross suggested fundraising for smaller projects such as sink fixtures and small repairs. McKinney said he could get an account set up for donations to go into, similar to what was done for the facade at Town Hall.
"It's not only the repairs on the project, you have to show you're making things better," said Denault, who served on the building committee. "I like what you're doing don't get me wrong, but it's going to be hard."
There is also an issue with asbestos that in some cases could be sealed but with the boilers (one McKinney described as "wrapped like a mummy"), professionals would have to be contracted to remove it.
Lev offered the group
"It was easy to hear people say we can do this but we need action," Lev said. "We need some good news, we need some good things to happen."
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