Budget Board cautious before jumping into turf field plan

Budget Board cautious before jumping into turf field plan

LINCOLN - After taking issue with past school capital projects that have come in over budget, the Budget Board is calling for more background information before members can start discussing the possibility of artificial turf on Ferguson Field.

At the board's meeting on Jan. 30, which saw about a dozen supporters of the proposed $1.5 million turf project in attendance, Moderator Robert Turner said the average taxpayer must wonder why bids and actual costs have failed to meet on projects like the security vestibules.

With bids not going out until after the Financial Town Meeting, the Budget Board must work with estimates for projects, which has meant the following:

* Approximately $500,000 from a resolution to install wireless connectivity in every classroom is coming back to the town's Fund 50 after the School Department won a $289,000 grant from the Rhode Island Department of Education that would do the same job.

School Committee Chairwoman Kristine Donabedian said there was nothing left out of the original proposal even though, as Moderator Robert Turner pointed out, the project came in $300,000 under budget when not factoring in the grant.

* Similarly, the district's technology overhaul ended up being funded for $2.1 million, more than $1 million less than the school's original proposal of $3.2 million, thanks to the help of a consultant paring down costs.

* The security vestibule plans came in over budget most glaringly at Lincoln High School, where $10,000 was requested by the School Committee and approved at the Financial Town Meeting, but $158,366 worth of work was later approved by the School Committee. The bid came in at $155,366.

School Business Manager Lori Miller told The Breeze two factors led to the high school vestibule project coming in over budget. The first, she said, is that the $10,000 budget by Angelo Mencucci, the former director of non-instructional operations, included only the cost of electrical work, omitting the other construction costs, which she said should have been budgeted at a total of $120,000.

Miller said the second reason was the expanded scope of the project that included sallyport vestibules as opposed to just constructing a wall that led visitors into the main office.

In an email, Miller said, "We are updating our bid approval process to ensure that, prior to any vote on capital bids that the School Committee takes in the future, the School Committee will be provided with documentation containing the amount requested in the capital budget, the amount approved by the voters at the Financial Town Meeting and any new costs if there is a change in the project scope."

Budget Board Chairman Carl Brunetti said at the meeting that the board is willing to meet if something comes in "way out of whack."

Budget Board Moderator Robert Turner said he would be willing to support adding a line to the school budget for engineering costs associated with getting more detailed project specifications.

For the proposed turf field, already the board said it would like to see a cost benefit analysis of the potential revenue an artificial turf field could bring in from rentals, as well as a study of soil samples to see if the site can support such a project.

School Committee member John LaFleur said the requests were "more than fair."

Budget Board members also had questioned the fact that proposed capital projects for the prior year have now been wiped off the list in favor of proposing only a turf field.

LaFleur said he has disagreed with other School Committee members in the past who, he said, favored throwing $5 million worth of projects at the Budget Board and "seeing if it would stick."

Donabedian explained that the ADA-accessible restrooms approved last year for the RIDE-mandated five-year capital plan do not have to be completed this year because of the town's FTM process.

So even though it makes Ferguson Field the only proposed school capital project this year, LaFleur said with $1 million from Fund 50 promised from the town, "I think there's a general feeling that the turf renovation kind of has to happen this year."

"We're a sports-driven town and the trophy field in town is unsafe," he said. "It's a hazard."

He said with work taking six to eight months, a new Ferguson Field could be usable by September 2015, meaning the football team may need to spend a season on the road.

LaFleur said in the meantime, Chet Nichols Field is getting destroyed from use by soccer and flag football teams.

Roofs, which were assessed earlier this year by Torrado Architects, were left off the school's capital proposal list this year, despite a few coming in as a top-priority status 1, to be addressed within the next year or two.

Donabedian said the School Committee made a judgement call, especially at Lincoln High School, where $1.8 million worth of work was listed as a top priority.

"There is talk and there is the possibility of renovating the high school in the next few years," she said, adding that Torrado said "it could probably wait."

LaFleur said he would support getting a second opinion on the status of the district's roofs because "the report seemed extremely heavy-handed."

Donabedian pointed out that a roof could be dry, but just out of warranty, to qualify for a status 2 priority.

Still, she said, the School Department has not ruled out addressing top-priority projects, like the $60,000 project at Lonsdale Elementary School. Meanwhile, Armand Milazzo, the director of non-instructional operations, has also said he could handle any roof fixes in-house this year.

Surplus money has been earmarked for claims, Donabedian explained, but could become available and used for the roof.

Those in attendance at the meeting spoke in favor of making the field the district's top priority this year.

Guy Williams, a coach and founder of the Lincoln Lions football program, said he was in favor of a real remedy.

"We take a lot of pride in our fields," he said. "We take a lot of pride in our athletics."

While he no longer has children in the Lincoln schools, he said he takes care of other people's children on that field, and has canceled many games because of the condition of the field after a little rain for safety reasons.

"I want the best for our town and the best for our kids," he said.

Marla Barrette, a Lincoln teacher and parent of athletes, said after visiting beautiful fields elsewhere in the state, "We want to just put up our hoods and hide" when Lincoln hosts a home game.

Turner, who pointed out that this is the furthest the field proposal has ever gotten in the budget process, said he was not averse to creating a new field.

He also said it broke his heart how more community members attended the meeting about a new Ferguson Field than about spending even more money on technology upgrades for classrooms.

Comments

"School Business Manager Lori Miller told The Breeze two factors led to the high school vestibule project coming in over budget. The first, she said, is that the $10,000 budget by Angelo Mencucci, the former director of non-instructional operations, included only the cost of electrical work, omitting the other construction costs, which she said should have been budgeted at a total of $120,000."

Isn't it Ms. Miller's responsibility to check all bids in her job as Business Manager? I guess its easier to blame the guy that's no longer there.