EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 7, 2013

Windham school officials divided over facilities plan

By John Toole
jtoole@eagletribune.com

---- — WINDHAM — School administrators are proposing a $1.3 million project to replace modular classrooms at Golden Brook School.

But it’s unclear whether the proposal will advance to Town Meeting, with the School Board divided over the best move to upgrade school facilities.

Discussion at last week’s board meeting led to a sharp exchange when Chairman Mike Joanis reacted to first-year board member Dennis Senibaldi’s complaint that the board needed to make decisions.

“One of the reasons why this is taking so long is we’ve never gotten to a motion,” Joanis told Senibaldi.

“We never get to a motion, really, because of the attitude like that,” Senibaldi said. “Like it or not, I’m here as an elected person, and you’ll let me finish, please.”

“At that point, I’m going to move the discussion to a motion and we’re going to move forward,” Joanis said.

Senibaldi proposed funding improvements to the siding of the modular classrooms, but his motion failed to get support.

Board members were reluctant to move forward before hearing results of a pending review of other facilities.

“There might be a better way to spend our money,” board member Michelle Farrell said.

Voters this year rejected a $31 million middle school which Senibaldi had opposed and other board members backed.

Officials have since been reassessing the future of facilities. A community forum is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at the middle school.

Administrators put forth the Golden Brook proposal at last week’s meeting.

“The facility is showing its age,” consultant Gino Baroni of Salem-based Trident Project Advantage Group told the board.

Baroni said the district might get another five or six years out of the 14-year-old modular classrooms by investing in upkeep, but would have to weigh those costs.

Business administrator Adam Steel said the district would have to spend about $100,000 to get five to eight years out of the classrooms.

It also could spend something less and get another three years or replace the classrooms with a new $1.3 million facility next summer.

He estimated the cost at about $300,000 annually over five years, though the district also would have to pay about $77,000 owed on the current aging facility in the next three years.

Steel, meanwhile, raised the possibility of the district getting a two-story modular facility that could help with space needs.

Superintendent Winfried Feneberg, addressing concerns over moisture damage to the modular classrooms, told the board the district would continue testing to assure a safe environment for students.

“The portables are one piece of the puzzle,” Farrell said. “We are facing major capacity issues and we have to look at all our facilities.”

Senibaldi warned that by shifting attention to Golden Brook after pushing two years for a middle school, officials risked confusing voters.

“That jumping around really causes issues with the electorate,” Senibaldi said.

Feneberg acknowledged the difficult path before school officials.

“We have a situation where we have multiple issues that need to be resolved and there is no simple solution,” Feneberg said.

The board is expected to settle on a direction for Town Meeting during the next couple of months.

Baroni encouraged a decision on the Golden Brook proposal no later than next month to get the project done next summer.