“We got a heads-up about two weeks ago that we had incurred a number of extra expenditures that (the bills for which) were just coming in – items we had to purchase to satisfy the building inspectors to get the certificate of occupancy,” said school board and construction committee member Phil Taylor.
The construction committee monitored expenses throughout the construction phase, giving the go-ahead to some upgrades, such as the wood pellet boiler, only after they were confident cost overruns were unlikely. We knew it was a tight budget at the beginning,” said Taylor. “I can’t see anywhere we didn’t do our very best to trim the numbers down.”
Taylor said the committee will “double-check” the expenditures with clerk of the works Gordon Bristol. “At this time two months ago, we thought we were looking pretty good,” Taylor said. “When we heard this we stopped the work on the front entryway.”
Windham Southwest Supervisory Union Business Manager Karen Atwood said there were still new bills coming in, but the total cost overrun was “a little over $50,000” at this point. Atwood said that some costs had been higher than expected, which chewed through the contingency fund included in the budget. “A big chunk of it was asbestos removal,” said Atwood. “You budgeted $10,000, and it cost $60,000. There’s your $50,000 right there.”
Taylor said there were also a number of small, unexpected expenditures that didn’t happen until the end of the project, such as the replacement of electrical outlets in the existing structure. “We didn’t plan to touch them, then the electrical inspector came in and wanted them all to be changed.”
Board member Adam Grinold asked if the news would change how the committee approaches construction at the Whitingham facility. “We’re going to do what we did before,” Taylor said. “We’ll work on paring down the project.” Taylor said the committee had already made some changes to plans at the middle/high school. “We changed the way they’re framing the auditorium and we pulled out the raised seating. If we get comfortable, we can add it back in.”
Grinold suggested that the board put construction finances on a future agenda for discussion, once the final numbers have been clarified. Taylor agreed, but he indicated that there wasn’t any need to rush financial decisions. “For now it can come out of the budget,” he said. “Towards the end of the year we can figure out whether we have to take out a loan for the amount, or what.”
A more immediate concern may be parking at the school. According to TVES Principal Rebecca Fillion, she has been dealing with phone calls and visits from parents angry about the situation, particularly after letters regarding “tardiness” went out per school policy. “Parents came in angry because the reason their kids are late was because they’re circling the parking lot waiting for a parking space so they can walk their kid to the door.”
Fillion said the problem was mainly in the morning, and mostly affected preschool students – all of whom must be dropped off by parents because preschool students don’t ride the bus.
Fillion said the problem in the morning was exacerbated by problems with the bus schedule. “Some kids are getting dropped off here 45 minutes before classes start,” she said. “I’ve hired kitchen staff to come in and feed them, but some of the kids that are here at 7:15 are getting picked up at 6:30. It’s too early.”
But Fillion also noted that only about 45% of Wilmington students are riding the bus. “(Riding the bus) is just not part of the Wilmington culture,” Fillion said.
“So if we could get more kids to ride the bus …” started Doty.
“The resolution to the bus problem doesn’t touch our morning problem,” Fillion said.
Fillion said she told parents that they could drop off preschool students later, at 8:15 am, but that doesn’t work for many families. “Many are working families, and they have older siblings that have to be here at 8 am, so the delay didn’t help.”
She said the school was about eight parking spaces short to accommodate preschool parents, and she said the problem would only get worse during the winter. “Right now staff are parked next to the building, but in the winter snow will come off the roof and would damage any cars parked there, so we’ll lose those 18 spots. So we need 26 more spots.”
Board member Kathy Larsen suggested that the school excuse tardiness caused by parking issues until a solution is found. But Fillion said it’s difficult for teachers to know why each student was late. “I just told parents that we’re following the policy, and we’re doing everything we can to resolve the parking problems.”
Taylor said a solution may be to build a parking area at the top of the hill behind the building, and an access road leading to it.
Board member Aimee Reed asked whether the athletic field could be used for temporary parking, but Fillion said it floods during rainy weather. Superintendent Richard McClement suggested that some staff members could park in municipal parking and carpool to the school until a long-term solution can be found.
Taylor said the building committee would meet to discuss the situation the following day. “I think we’re going to have to get back to you,” Taylor told Fillion. “We just don’t have a solution at this time. I think with a little more time, we will. But I’m exhausted at this point. I feel like I’ve dropped the ball on that parking lot, but it took a couple weeks to recover from moving in to the building.”