Given the Town Council Agenda item # 2020-3-7 and proposed Order # 20-035 on the Gorham Town Council agenda coming right up on Tuesday, March 10, 2020, I thought it might be prudent to ensure Gorham School families are accurately informed of what this proposed order is about, and its implications to our students so that you can decide whether you wish to become more involved as citizens of this community to express your opinions to our elected officials. A copy of the language from the Town Council Agenda is below:
A Little & Background Context
In order to understand this dichotomy, it is important to go back to where the story began to provide context. This story takes us back to the spring of 2019 when the School Committee first brought the concept of the modular expansion to the Town Council to request a referendum for $2.8 million in funding.
The original proposal was to add 6 modular classroom spaces at Narragansett Elementary School along with bathrooms, mechanical spaces and a modular cafeteria space. A drawing of the original proposal is below:
In the image above, you can see that the modulars are connected to the original building through a corridor that is located off the backside of the gymnasium. The original plan developed in the spring of 2019 was to continue to use the existing kitchen space (which is located in the gymnasium) and to close down PE classes 2 times per day for a period of 10-15 minutes each. This time was intended to allow us to prep food in the existing location space, transport the food via steam tables, etc. from the kitchen space to the cafeteria space, serve food to the students in the cafeteria space and then collect used trays, etc. and transport those back to the existing cafeteria to be cleaned. In the spring of 2019, a full year and 1/2 away from when we planned on opening this expansion, we believed this plan could work programmatically. Unfortunately, as often occurs, information changed and we became aware in mid-October of 2019 that this plan was not going to work as originally designed.
What is the Problem?
The problem is that until this fall, we hadn't had a chance to develop the fully formed allied arts schedule (PE, Music, Art, Technology/Social skills, and Library) that we would need to have operational at Narragansett Elementary School with almost 100 more students for the opening of the 2020-21 school year. It wasn't until this fall that we were able to ask Principals to identify the staff shifts that were needed, and to develop the detailed schedules needed to make a school of 380 students work, to include a fully developed Allied Arts schedule. When we were able to develop this schedule, it became clear that we would NOT have the ability to shut down PE classes (as part of our allied arts schedule) for the times needed to safely transport food as we had originally planned, unless we significantly impacted the time students had for these important educational services.
As you can imagine, changes to our allied arts schedules, which have staff that are shared between schools, and are also the manner in which we provide our teaching staff with contractually required planning time, can have significant impacts to the operations of our schools that spider out in very complex ways that are hard to predict. Once we became aware of this problem, we immediately jumped into "problem-solving mode" to see if we could determine a way to address these issues and still meet the overall educational needs of the children we are charged to serve. Through the hard work of our district leadership team, our facilities director, myself and our School Committee we were able to determine a solution that would not require us to ask the taxpayers of Gorham for additional funding in order to address and solve this problem that would otherwise negatively impact the educational programming for our students.
The solution we have come up with involves going forward with a plan that we already had in mind for either Phase II or Phase III of the original modular addition plan. This would involve moving the existing kitchen to a new location on the side of the modular cafeteria to create a fully operational kitchen that is adjoined to the cafeteria space to create one "cafeteria space" where food can be prepared and served to students in one location in such a manner as would not impact our PE classes going on in the existing gymnasium. We would consider this a "change order" to our existing modular expansion project which has already been approved by voters via referendum last June.
Below is a drawing of what this kitchen space would look like:
The costs associated with this change order would NOT require additional taxpayer funding. How is this possible one might ask? Well let me explain the funding portion before we go too much further.
The total amount that was approved by voters to spend on this project in June was $2.8 million dollars for the expansion of modular classrooms, associated mechanical spaces and cafeteria spaces. Of that $2.8 million, we utilized $859,600.00 to lease purchase the modular spaces themselves. We then bonded $1,940,000.00 to pay for the site work, mechanical work, connector work, etc. to take those spaces and make them functional for the purposes outlined (6 additional classrooms, bathrooms, mechanical spaces, and cafeteria space).
Within that $1,940,000.00 bond budget, we have identified "savings" within the existing project in the amount of approximately $480,000.00. These savings have been identified because several of the subcontracted components of the work (connector, mechanical, building finishes, etc.) came in with bids lower than anticipated and because we had originally built in a contingency for the project in an amount of a little over $150,000.00. Additionally, knowing that this was a complex project with many moving parts, we had built into our FY 20 Capital Improvement Budget, a line for "Narragansett School Modular Connector, Site work, and Building Outfitting" in the amount of $249,000.00. This budget was approved by the Town Council and by voters via the budget validation referendum, also in June of 2019.
So when we combine the "savings" from the bonded funds in the amount of approximately $480,000.00 and the funds that sit in our FY 20 CIPS budget in the amount of $249,000.00, we get a total of $729,000.00 which is what we believe it would take to move forward with the movement of the kitchen space from its existing location to the new location adjoined to the cafeteria space.
The Complexities At Play
If we can do this work within the existing approved bond and/or FY 20 funds, one might now question WHY IS THE TOWN COUNCIL DISCUSSING ADDING A REFERENDUM QUESTION FOR VOTERS TO APPROVE THIS PROJECT IN JUNE? A great question indeed, and one the School Committee has already wrestled with before making its decision on Feb. 26, 2020 in a vote of 6-1 to move forward with the kitchen move after having thoroughly discussed the complexities at play.
There is some argument that by utilizing the $249,000.00 in our FY 20 CIPS budget towards work associated with this project that we are in fact overspending the total project which was approved by voters in the amount of $2.8 million dollars. The School Department's legal counsel and the School Committee disagree with this interpretation because of how we have divided the costs associated with moving forward. You can view our full legal opinion by CLICKING HERE. Basically, what we have done is divided the costs associated with this change order into two "buckets". The first is the structural components of the additional space. The frame, the floor, the electrical, mechanical associated with the construction of the "shell" of the kitchen. These components are being paid via the remaining $480,000.00 in the bond. The $249,000.00 from FY 20 CIPS funds would be used solely for the purpose of funding the wiring and mechanical/plumbing associated with the movement of existing kitchen equipment (stoves, vents, coolers, dishwashers, etc) into the new space and hooking them back up so that they are fully functional in the new space. By making this distinction in funding sources we are in effect using the FY 20 CIPS funding for the appropriate purposes associated with annual CIPS funding which is approved annually by voters vs. for purposes that would require a separate voter referendum question. Again, our legal council agrees with this interpretation.
To add to this complexity, and to be honest, to get at the crux of the issue itself and why the School Committee voted 6-1 to move forward is actually an issue not related directly related to funding. The REAL ISSUE for the School Committee and for those of you who are parents is actually one of TIMING.
The problem is that if we put this question to a referendum in June, it would mean that we would have to halt progress on this work UNTIL JUNE. Any of you who have tried to build anything in Maine understand the problem this creates...we would, in essence, lose 2.5 months of work time to complete this project and to ensure that the kitchen is fully operational for the start of school in late August 2020.
The reality is that if we don't move forward NOW, we will miss the window needed to complete the work in time for school to begin in August. If we miss that window, we will in effect be forced to go with our original plan which we realized earlier this year would not work due to negative impacts to students and overall costs. Again, those negative impacts to students and to the school system are:
- Having to reduce PE time for students at Narragansett School in order to allow food to be transported safely from the existing kitchen space to the cafeteria and back again. This would create an inequitable situation between Narragansett School and the other two K-5 schools.
- As a result, not having this time available to use to provide planning time for Narragansett teachers per the negotiated contract. This means we would likely have to add additional staffing to provide this planning time, which would have the impact of reducing overall instruction time for all students at Narragansett Elementary in other areas.
- Also as a result of this, we would need to hire additional kitchen staff for the year to assist in transporting food and other materials back and forth to the cafeteria.
- Finally, we would have to purchase about $150,000.00 in additional kitchen equipment to carry out our original plans for transporting food from one location to another.
The Bottom Line:
The bottom line is that although the Town Council has every right to place a question on a referendum in June, the implications of the Town Council voting to do this at their meeting on Tuesday night would not only increase overall costs, but also dramatically impact our students in a negative way. Those negative impacts to our students would be:
- Loss of instructional time at one school in the specific areas of Physical Education.
- Loss of planning time for teachers, having impacts across all classrooms and the overall quality of our programming for students.
Please know that this information is being shared NOT to admonish the Town Council for doing their due diligence and for performing their fiduciary responsibilities as our elected officials. I share this information so that parents fully understand the implications of this vote in a timely enough manner to be able to express your views to your elected officials if you wish to do so.
If you wish to share your views, you may:
- Attend the Town Council meeting and speak during the public comment portion. The meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 10 at 6:30 p.m. in Council Chambers
- Email Town Council members. You can do so by going to the site LINKED HERE.
- Email School Committee members. You can do so by going to the site LINKED HERE.
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me at heather,email@example.com.
Please know that regardless of the outcomes of Tuesday night, the Gorham Schools will continue to strive to provide the best educational programming possible for all of our students.