North Smithfield school leaders plea for fix-up funds: fire alarms, roofs, septic system and labs

North Smithfield school leaders plea for fix-up funds: fire alarms, roofs, septic system and labs

Nine projects to be discussed Jan. 6

NORTH SMITHFIELD - Pointing to major problems that he says have been ignored for years at three town schools and the building that houses the district's administrative offices, School Committee Chairman Robert Lafleur has requested capital funding for several "serious impending" maintenance projects, and is expected to discuss it with members of the Town Council, Budget Committee and Planning Board next Monday, Jan. 6.

In a letter to Council President John Flaherty dated Dec. 3, Lafleur outlined the district's physical needs, which he said the town has failed to fund despite ongoing requests.

While acknowledging the council's plan to address building problems through a "Public Facilities Task Force," Lafleur states that "the School Committee needs to continue to somehow make its capital needs known due to the fact that for the last five plus years there seems to have been no set process."

The Public Facilities Task Force is a board working to design a plan for a bond to fund improvement projects that will to go before voters next year.

According to the School Board leader, fire alarms at North Smithfield Elementary Schools need replacement to be brought up to state fire code.

"This was identified as a priority in the capital budget submission last year," Lafleur states. "It was not funded. As far as we are aware, it was not considered by whoever makes these decisions."

If the system fails, he says, the district would either have to close the school until a new alarm system could be installed, or arrange for a 24/7 watch by the North Smithfield Fire Department.

At Halliwell, roofs need "immediate attention or replacement" according to an evaluation by Eagle Cornice Roofing. That project is expected to cost around $70,000.

"As you know, we have submitted capital requests over the last five years that targeted this issue," LaFleur stated.

Halliwell also needs septic work, with one of the school's six systems failing, and another that appears set to follow suit. Normally, Lafleur said, each system gets pumped out once a year, but the failing system is now adding up maintenance costs every other week. A group that examined the issue, including committee member George Hemond and Water and Sewer Supt. Russell Carpenter, has recommended that the school tie into the town sewer system at a cost of $35,000.

"Under the School Department procurement policy, this project could be moved to be exempt from the bid process due the safety and health of the students and employees," Lafleur said.

All of the duct work at Halliwell needs to be cleaned at a cost of $16,005, and siding and soffits on 11 buildings need to be replaced.

"We have been patching what we can, however, these projects are essential for safety especially since we have squirrel/pest invasions," the letter states.

At Kendall Dean, the home of the School Department's administrative offices, a 60-year-old boiler must be replaced. That project, Lafleur said, was approved for funding in June, but no bidders responded to an advertisement placed in The Valley Breeze in October.

"Due to the fact that the bid went out in October, the window to complete this project before winter set in was almost nonexistent," Lafleur said. The project, he added cannot be done during the winter due to lack of replacement heat.

"It appears that the wide open window to accomplish this during the months of August, September, October and November are gone."

Flaherty acknowledged the issues in a reply to Lafleur Dec. 9, but pointed out that the School Department has not followed the same process as other town offices in requesting funding.

"I think all involved would agree that the health and safety of our town's children and the proper functioning of our school facilities is a top priority," Flaherty said. "Less clear to me is how or why these items were not addressed in previous capital budget planning cycles. It's my understanding that although the School Department has submitted a list of capital budget requests annually, it has not met with the Planning Board in the last several years to discuss the department's needs and priorities and to review bids as is the case with other town departments during the first quarter."

Lafleur also noted several of the district's longer term needs in the letter including portable communication devices costing $34,720, the updating of the North Smithfield High School science lab at a cost of $913,000, repairs to NSHS stairways priced at $82,286, removal of asbestos from several rooms in the school costing $57,000 and emergency lighting at NSES for $16,000.

"Of the nine items outlined in your letter, all seem important although some appear more urgent than others," Flaherty said, suggesting a workshop to be held in conjunction with the Council's regular meeting Jan. 6.

Flaherty told The Breeze this week that members of the School Committee, Budget Committee and Planning Board are expected to attend the meeting, which will held at 7 p.m. at Kendall Dean.