SUNDERLAND — As the list of repairs and maintenance for Sunderland Elementary School increases, Superintendent Darius Modestow met with the Select Board last week to begin discussions about how to address them.
The group came away from the discussion determining that the Union 38 School District and the town will need to cooperate to evaluate their methods of funding.
“We’re not solving this problem with the current setup and that’s my message tonight,” Modestow said. “The system in which we need to address these capital needs is broken right now. We’re not going to be able to address these needs in the current way we do things.”
Currently, the Union 38 School District’s budget does not include capital improvements. Meanwhile, Sunderland’s capital budget covers the entire town, but does not set aside any money specifically for the school. The discussion led to Select Board Chairman Tom Fydenkevez proposing that the district determine an annual maintenance cost so a designated capital fund can be created.
“To do it right, you have to identify how much you need per year to maintain the school,” Fydenkevez said to Modestow. “I like that idea. … It has to be used for capital expenditures. You’re designating money and it’s going to be used for that reason.”
Another option Modestow proposed was possibly taking out a joint loan with Sunderland if the town already has capital improvement ideas.
“I wanted to bring it to your attention because I’m wondering if the town has other facility projects … that it wants to group together and possibly do a loan,” Modestow said. “I wanted to put it on your radar because it’s getting to a scope that’s a little bit bigger than the School Committee alone can handle and we’re going to have to work together.”
Modestow highlighted the need to replace glycol in the sprinklers, a non-functioning intercom and a dishwasher that constantly breaks down as the immediate needs for the school, but said much larger projects such as window replacements and the installation of air conditioning in the gym are on the horizon. Modestow said he anticipates the list “will keep getting longer.”
Fydenkevez said a loan is not out of the question because Sunderland doesn’t “have a lot of debt in town right now.” He said residents could be persuaded to take on a loan or designate money if the school can clearly identify what projects need to be addressed.
“We’ve retired a lot of our debt over the past few years. We have the capacity to talk to the citizens of our town and say, ‘Hey look, this is gonna set the school up for another 15, 20 years,’” Fydenkevez said. He added that compiling a list of repairs would be more persuasive than “coming back every year and asking for another $50,000 for this or $30,000 for this” because “it’s much harder than trying to do this stuff all together.”
Modestow said in an interview later that the meeting was productive in laying out the particular challenges Sunderland Elementary School is facing.
“It was the first step to start the conversation to make them aware of what the elementary school’s needs are,” Modestow said by phone. “As the building ages, we start to get more and more higher-priced repairs.”
He said Sunderland Elementary is at the age where a full renovation isn’t necessary, but significant repairs are starting to add up. He noted the three other elementary schools in the Union 38 School District are not seeing a growing list of repairs “to the same degree” because they are made of brick.
“Their buildings are made of brick and this is made of wood,” Modestow said. “That’s the honest truth.”
He clarified his statements from Monday’s meeting about the “broken” system for addressing capital improvements and said the system is “broken for the amount of repairs we have at this time.”
“We don’t have capital as part of the elementary budget. … We’ve been going to the town and that list is getting big enough,” Modestow said, “that we’re not going to get things done at an appropriate pace.”