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TJ AC fix will require budget shifts

Board members mull changes to 10 year plan

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017 11:00 a.m. CST • Updated: Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017 11:23 a.m. CST
(David Dolmage/Daily News)
Newton Community School District board member Robyn Friedman listens during discussion at Monday’s meeting of the Newton Community School District Board. The board is looking at potential changes to the district’s ten year facilities plan to cover the cost of replacing a failing AC unit at Thomas Jefferson Elementary.

A costly fix of the air conditioning unit at Thomas Jefferson Elementary will require shifting the district’s long range budget, but school members still aren’t sure exactly what those changes will look like.

During Monday night’s regular board meeting the board reviewed the district’s 10 year facilities plan and held a preliminary discussion about potential changes in that plan to cover the cost of the air conditioning unit, which the district is estimating will cost anywhere between $60,000 to $100,000 to replace.

In the current version of the district’s 10-year plan, administrators had budgeted $125,000 to replace the air conditioning unit at Thomas Jefferson during the 2020 fiscal year, but after inspecting the unit this fall Jack Suttek, maintenance supervisor for NCSD, said the unit was beyond repair and would require a total replacement. Many of the HVAC systems in place across the district were replaced during the 1999-2000 school year, and Suttek said that with a shelf life of approximately 20 years most of the units are nearing the end of their shelf life.

While the expense is unexpected, Callaghan said the district purposefully builds some flexibility into the budget in order to handle unplanned expenses. Replacing the unit two years early means the district will have to shuffle some other expenses in the budget, although Callaghan said it’s too early to say exactly what will have to be pushed back. Initially, the district had hoped they’d be able to repair the unit, but Callaghan said the maintenance department has determined that’s not feasible. Any expense over $25,000 requires board approval before proceeding.

“It’s going to be a high dollar fix, this isn’t a $10,000 repair,” Callaghan said.

While district employees typically service all of the HVAC equipment, Callaghan said the district will enter into a bid process to have a company replace the air conditioning unit. The replacement process will require a crane, and will have to be done by the company that supplies the unit in order to qualify for the warranty process.

Callaghan told board members on Monday night there are opportunities to shift items on the 10-year plan, and there may also be opportunities to push back some items if the need isn’t imminent. During fiscal year 2021 the district has budgeted to replace the roofs at several schools across the district, but Callaghan said if the roof is in good enough shape, the district will be able to push that expense back for several years. That flexibility is a key element in the plan board president Travis Padget said.

“We have some flexibility so we can make sure we’re under budget, if the roof is still good we’ll push it out another year,” Padget said. “The plan will never be set in stone, we’ll always have emergencies and priorities.”

One of the areas where board members see opportunity for pushback is the proposed project to upgrade the house lighting, and the rigging at the high school auditorium, two projects with an estimated cost of $345,000 that had been budgeted into the plan for the 2019 fiscal year. Board members discussed pushing those projects back in order to cover the costs to replace the air conditioning unit, but discussions at Monday night’s board meeting were preliminary. In discussing shifting funds from one area to another board member Robyn Friedman said the district had to balance its “needs” with its “wants” in order to serve the students.

“I think it’s just about what the need is at the time, when you have a physical problem, that rises to the top right away,” Friedman said.

Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or ddolmage@newtondailynews.com

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