Schools getting needed repairs for nice price

AMHERST – Taxpayers received some happy news last week: The $4 million school renovation project approved last year is on track to be between $170,000 and $300,000 under budget.

SAU 39 buildings and grounds Director Jim Miner gave the School Board an update on the project Thursday night, including those figures, and he described the next phase: a new heating and ventilation system for Wilkins Elementary School and a new boiler for Clark Elementary School.

In March 2008, voters approved a $4 million bond article to pay for renovations at the district’s three schools: Clark and Wilkins and Amherst Middle School. The work has been done in phases.

This summer, Wilkins is getting a new heating and ventilation system, which Miner said will provide students and staff with a much more comfortable learning environment.

The current heating and ventilation system is inefficient and has gone through many changes since being constructed in the 1960s, he said.

Renovating it “would be like putting a Band-Aid on a Band-Aid on a Band-Aid,” Miner said. “It makes more sense to remove what’s there and start fresh.”

Miner said students and teachers at Wilkins would feel a “vast improvement” because the issues with heat distribution will be corrected. There will less of a reliance on opening windows to make the building more comfortable.

At Clark, a 1934 boiler will be replaced. Another boiler at the school will remain as a backup.

During the meeting, the School Board accepted a guaranteed maximum price of $1.62 million for the work at Clark and Wilkins.

So far, the first phases of the project have come about $96,617 under budget. Last summer, old “rat’s nest” wiring was replaced at Wilkins; new, more efficient windows were installed at Clark and Wilkins; and the office and health rooms were reorganized at the middle school. New sprinklers also were added at Clark.

A fire on the first day of school at Wilkins in 2007 was blamed on an overheated extension cord. That shouldn’t be an issue at Wilkins anymore because there are now more outlets.

Miner said the project is under budget because of the ailing economy. School Board member Dwight Brew said a commitment to competitively bidding most of the project led to the reduced cost. School Board members agreed Miner’s hard work also kept costs down.

“It’s a lot more than just good luck that we’ve been able to get all this work done on schedule at a very high level of quality and under budget,” Brew said.

“It’s due in very large part to Jim.” School officials are still waiting for estimates on improving the heating and ventilation systems at the middle school’s kitchen and cafeteria. Also, it’s unclear how much contingency money the school might need to use until all the work is done.