December 6, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 49

Borough, district sort project costs

An upcoming engineer’s evaluation at the Haines School is aimed at determining whether a ventilation system in the school’s relocated art room needs replacing. It also may determine if the Haines Borough or school district foots the bill for work on the system.

The borough is responsible for “major maintenance” to the school building but whether it falls into that category may hinge on the engineer’s findings.

Borough Mayor Stephanie Scott recently located a state definition of major maintenance as projects required “in order for the facility to continue to be used for the educational program.”

The ventilation system wasn’t a concern until art moved into a former woodshop room as part of a $46,000 office relocation last summer approved by the school board. The change moved the superintendent’s office into the school’s renovated art room.

Fan noise in the system’s ducts, located on the relocated art room’s ceiling, requires teachers and students there to speak loudly.

“The situation with the fan has always been there,” Scott said this week. “It’s nothing new. It’s become a higher priority because the art room was moved in there.”

Scott said if the system needs replacing as “major maintenance,” the borough would be responsible for covering those costs, estimated at $200,000 or more. “The school’s argument is that (the system) is at the end of its service life, and should have been replaced during school renovation. If it’s at the end of its service life, it’s our obligation to replace it,” she said.

But if it’s not, the district’s on the hook for work to the system, although that may not include replacing it. School superintendent Michael Byer has said there may be other alternatives, such as seeking a quieter fan.

There’s also a question about $48,000 already spent on relocating offices and classrooms, including $22,000 for partitioning the art room and $26,000 for cabinets to outfit the former woodshop for art.

Work to the art room may be funded by a state grant the school received for gym floor replacement, but if it isn’t, paying for that would fall to the district, Scott said.

Scott has initiated monthly meetings with school superintendent Michael Byer to avoid confusion over responsibility for future work at the school.

“I’m hoping these meetings help us avoid these kinds of things,” Scott said. “So many of our issues are borne out of a failure to communicate. That’s all we’re doing. We have to have a deliberative process for these decisions.”

One of the purposes of the meetings is to hash out the school’s improvement needs before projects go forward, Scott said, including identifying the fund from which a project is financed and where the money will come from.

“We are the owners of the building. What governance do we have over our tenants? We have some,” she said.

School superintendent Michael Byer said he welcomed the meetings.