Selectmen, School Committee Discuss Estabrook Costs Leading up to Special Town Meeting
Friday night meeting held to discuss costs of PCB remediation at the Estabrook Elementary School.
With special Town Meeting coming up two weeks from Monday, the Board of Selectmen and School Committee met Friday evening to go over a list of costs associated with an article seeking funds for Estabrook Elementary School polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) remediation work.
As of Friday night, school and town officials estimate about $600,000 will be needed in supplemental appropriations from special Town Meeting to cover costs at the school through April.
About $1 million ($1,050,382) has been spent on remediation and associated costs at Estabrook after air levels at the school were found in August to have higher-than-recommended levels of PCBs.
So far, $400,000 – in two separate appropriations of $150,00 and $250,000 – has been transferred from town reserves, while $51,910 has been spent against capital articles, leaving a shortfall of about $598,472.
However that number is still somewhat in flux, as School Committee members decided at Friday's meeting to remove $23,412 – the cost to extend school two days in spring to make up days when Estabrook was closed this fall – from the shortfall amount.
"That's small enough we could look to fold it into our budget," said School Committee Chairman Rodney Cole, noting it was not dire for the money to be appropriated by special Town Meeting.
An estimated $100,000 in additional natural gas costs are expected to be incurred this winter, as 24-hour exchange of fresh air (which has shown to reduce PCB levels in the air at Estabrook) means more energy is needed to heat the outdoor air before it is circulated through the school, according to Director of Facilities Pat Goddard.
Goddard said he would have a better idea on Monday whether $100,000 is an accurate estimate of increased gas costs at the school.
Of the approximate $600,000 shortfall, $387,062 has been spent from the Dept. of Public Facilities budget, while $211,410 has come from the school budget.
Town Manager Carl Valente said special Town Meeting approval will be sought to tap into free cash to cover the shortfall. Those free cash funds are typically tapped at annual Town Meeting, and the balances that could be used will be from capital accounts, which normally go to fund other capital budgets.
""It's not free money," Valente said. "It's going to effect other parts of the capital budget in subsequent years."
Selectman Norm Cohen said similar articles are typically on the annual Town Meeting warrant, and are viewed as "housekeeping" items. The difference is that the sum is larger than normal, noted Selectmen Chairman Hank Manz.
The two committees discussed how the presentation will be made to Town Meeting, and ultimately decided to circulate information on the article to Town Meeting members before the Nov. 15 special Town Meeting, but not to hold an information session prior to Nov. 15. That will be done as a presentation at Town Meeting.
Selectman George Burnell urged that at special Town Meeting school officials talk about where the Estabrook work is now, and what plans are for the future - including building a new school. (Goddard noted earlier in the meeting that an emergency statement of interest – or SOI – will likely be completed by next Friday, for submittal to the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which could approve the project and provide about 40 percent of the estimated $30 million cost to build a new school.)
"At (special) Town Meeting, we have to not only tell people where we are and how we got there, but where we're going and how we're going to get there," Burnell said.