Government Schools

West Hartford Board of Education Approves Capital Improvement Program

West Hartford Public Schools Superintendent's Office. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

The Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday night to adopt the proposed Capital Improvement Plan.

By Ronni Newton

The West Hartford Board of Education unanimously voted Feb. 7 to adopt the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) submitted by Interim Superintendent Andy Morrow and Assistant Superintendent for Administration Anne McKernan at its Dec. 20, 2022 meeting, without making any changes.

The CIP approved for FY 2023-24 totals $11,497,000, and will be passed along to Town Manager Rick Ledwith for inclusion in the town’s overall capital improvement budget. The total for the upcoming fiscal year is slightly lower than the $11,821,000 CIP that was adopted by the Board of Education for the 2022-23 period, which was then incorporated into the Town of West Hartford’s Capital Improvement Plan for the FY23 budget adopted last April without any modification.

A 12-year CIP is submitted to the Board of Education each year, but only the first two years are adopted. The CIP for 2024-2025 adopted Tuesday totals $14,615,000, with costs for constructing a new office at Wolcott Elementary School, along with continued increase in the estimated costs for the elementary school air quality improvement program.

“The construction world and projects continue to be a little bit difficult,” Director of Plant & Facilities Bob Palmer said when he outlined the CIP at the Dec. 20 meeting. He said supply chain issues and delays continue, and there continue to be increases in the cost for HVAC and switch gear. There have been limited bidders for some projects, and Palmer said that in some cases there has been an adjustment in scope as well as schedule for projects.

There may end up being a year when the district takes a break in implementing the elementary school air quality improvement program, Palmer said, in order to save up money. It’s a 15-year program, and the costs have really escalated since the project was first added to the CIP two years ago. He said bids are about to go out for Duffy Elementary School – the first school on the list, where work is scheduled to be done this summer – and estimates are now twice as high as they were three years ago when the discussions began. The 2023-24 CIP includes $4,622,000 for the air quality improvement plan, and $5,540,000 has now been included for subsequent years, an increase from the roughly $3 million initially estimated for the project.

Palmer’s presentation included a look-back at work that had been proposed last year, and what projects have been completed or are in the works. As an example, he noted that the air handler for the King Philip Middle School auditorium was approved as part of the CIP last year, but is still on order. Replacement of the boiler at Webster Hill was also approved, but it has been determined that the school’s HVAC needs can instead be served through a heat pump system through the elementary school air quality improvement project. Palmer said there may be an opportunity to use the same approach at other buildings.

While roof replacement at Sedgwick Middle School has been completed, work at Braeburn and Hall has been postponed. Palmer said exterior work at Braeburn will be put out to bid again, because the bid responses received were much too high.

Installation of new flooring and painting has been completed at Webster Hill, but postponed at King Philip, Palmer said. The Hall culinary arts kitchen renovation has been completed, as have the restroom renovations at Conard, Hall, and Sedgwick.

Replacement of the visitor side bleachers at Conard had been planned for the 2022-23 period, but that work has been postponed due to supply issues, Palmer said. Playground equipment for Wolcott is still on order, and it has been almost a year, he said.

Replacement of seating in the Hall and King Philip auditoriums is in process, Palmer said.

The district has been implementing security improvements in all buildings through the CIP, and Palmer said that main entrance security improvements at Norfeldt have been completed, but as have exterior door replacements at Bugbee and King Philip.

Plans for updating the main entrance security at Wolcott Elementary School have changed, however. Palmer said when he outlined the proposed CIP in December that with the school’s current layout, there really is no good way of providing a desired level of security at the front door. A new program for Wolcott has instead been proposed, with $500,000 for design and pre-construction in 2023-24, and $2,500,000 in 2024-25 year.

“Our thought is to move the office to the canopy space [in the front of the building],” he said, resulting in a slightly larger main office that will be at the front entrance and also may be able to accommodate more people. While the school does not need additional classrooms, it is in need of small group instructional space, he said, and currently staff has been using corners of rooms and other makeshift spaces. The existing main office will be renovated and turned into smaller group instructional space, while the security issue will be addressed with the new main office.

Tennis courts at Conard and Hall, which ended up being funded by a grant from the state, have been substantially completed, Palmer said. They will be lined for play in the spring, and when the weather warms up will apply the final phase of coating will be applied.

Some CIP items appear every year – including asbestos abatement associated with the replacement of flooring and roofs. Investments in computers and infrastructure include replacement of approximately 1,500 devices per year, as well as updates of furniture and other equipment.

Prior to the vote Tuesday night, Board member Gayle Harris asked whether or not contract costs are locked in, and Palmer said that in most cases, once the contract is signed the prices are locked in, unless the project is delayed by the town in which case there might be an escalation clause.

Harris also asked how costs can be estimated eight or 10 years out, and Palmer said items shown in the future years of the CIP act as placeholders. “We present you a two-year package here [for adoption], but really I’m planning for three years in the background,” he said, which in the past few years has been very difficult.

As for the out years, he said, “Priorities will change, programs will change and we’ll have to shuffle the list around sometimes to do different projects, but those are kind of buckets of projects and costs.” As an example he said, the new project for Wolcott was added this year because the need arose.

Morrow said the West Hartford Public Schools CIP will be rolled into the town’s capital improvement plan, and considered as part of the town’s budget which will be adopted in late April.

The district’s operating budget will be presented by Morrow at the Board’s March 7 meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

More details about the West Hartford Public Schools Capital Improvement Plan can be found on the PDF below.

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