The Board of Education heard a disturbing report on the state of the town's public schools Monday, as new Facility Manager Richard Ziegler told the school board that town schools were in urgent need of repairs and renovations that could total more than $20 million.
"We're probably one of the oldest school districts in the state," Ziegler told the school board at its Monday meeting. "…Our schools are in rough shape."
Ziegler went on to tell the school board about roofs that needed repairs, carpets and windows that have to be replaced, parking lots that should be redone, and the boiler and heating piping system at Nathan Hale Elementary School that is in danger of failing at any moment.
Just to fix the priority items, Ziegler said, would cost the school district about $10 million, while all the maintenance needed to repair the town's 10 elementary schools, sixth grade academy, middle school, high school, and assorted administrative and special educational facilities would run the school district an estimated $22.8 million.
"This is unreimbursed money," said Michael Crockett, a Republican member of the school board who said he didn't like the news but was not surprised to hear it, as long-need repairs and replacements for town schools have been delayed for years due to a lack of funds. "The state's not going to give us any money to fix this."
Ziegler said the most pressing need at the moment was at Nathan Hale Elementary School on Spruce Street, which was built in 1921 and still contains many of its original systems. Ziegler said the boiler and heat piping systems could fail at any moment, and should that happen it would necessitate shutting the school.
"We're at the end of its life. Somebody's got to decide to do something," Ziegler said of the heating and boiler systems at Nathan Hale. "When that steam pipe decides to go, it's over."
Ziegler said a "like new" renovation of the school would cost about $20 million, but could take as long as five years to plan and implement, but that he doubted the systems at Nathan Hale would likely last that long. Even short-term fixes to Nathan Hale would cost the school system about $2.5 million, Ziegler said, and would only be delaying the inevitable, as the school has not undergone an extensive renovation since its construction 91 years ago.
"It's very similar throughout the district," Ziegler said of the state of the town's public schools, which range in age from 100 to 36 years.
Another priority repair that can't wait are the carpets at Verplanck Elementary School, Ziegler said, which have been declared a tripping hazard by the town's fire marshal. He said the school system planned to take money it had earmarked for repairs to Nathan Hale to replace the carpet at Verplanck this summer, but was still $35,000 short of the funds needed.
School board members thanks Ziegler for his candid report, which they said helped shed light on the dire need to spend funds repairing, replacing, and maintaining the town's public schools.
"If we don't improve that, it's just going to get worse," Leon said. "Our children, our teachers and our community shouldn't be in conditions like this."
School board members hope to discuss the state of the town's public schools as part of a joint meeting with the Board of Directors in February.