The Manchester City Board is looking to renovate College Street Elementary School, a project that will cost $4.1 million. Director of Schools Dr. Joey Vaughn spoke with the city’s Finance Committee on Tuesday, April 9 to discuss the possibility of the city funding about 61 percent of the project.
The proposed renovation would add a full service kitchen and four new classrooms. The existing kitchen would be demolished and the space would be used to expand the school’s cafeteria.
“We want to grow and in order to grow, we need to look at the building,” Vaughn told the commission, which consisted of Vice Mayor Bill Nickels, alderman Marilyn Howard and the city’s Chief Financial Officer Bridget Anderson. Alderman Bob Bellamy was not present.
The school has $4.1M in their fund balance and would use $1.6M to put toward the project.
“I want to keep the fund balance healthy,” he said. “The system worked hard for five years to build our fund balance, now it’s time to invest it back into schools and the kids.”
The remaining $2.5M would come from the city.
Currently, the school’s kitchen is not designed to serve food – it is a warming kitchen, meaning no food is made or prepared onsite. Vaughn said it is woefully undersized for the school and will not work if the system expands in the next 5-10 years.
The four classrooms would provide more instructional space.
“We’re using every space,” Vaughn said, adding faculty and staff are using closets as well.
However, the gathered committee pointed out the city is working to balance the 2019-2020 budget, a document that has a deficit of over $600,000 as of this discussion. With this in mind, Nickels asked Vaughn if the school could cut the classrooms out of the project, thus reducing the cost.
Nickels said it would be harder to argue against a one-time city expense of $1M to renovate a school’s kitchen than $2.5M to add more classrooms.
Vaughn understood their position.
“I think the classrooms will be an issue quickly,” he said. “I do think both are needed, but I do understand that’s something we could look at.”
He later added, “I know you all are strapped right now and I get it. We all do. We can appreciate that. But we’ve got to be careful that we’re not in a situation in 5-10 years where we’re so far behind that we can’t catch up.”
Vaughn closed the renovation discussion by inviting all of the aldermen into the school for a tour, noting that many things haven’t been changed in 20 years, if not longer.
As of the discussion, Nickels was not for the expense – the city budget was predicting a deficit and Nickels wanted to balance the budget and know how much to expect from tax revenue streams before considering pledging city money to the project.
TRANE, an Energy Conservation Consulting company and a world leader in air condition systems, services and solutions, offered a proposition to the school system, which would need to be approved by the city Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
Vaughn invited TRANE’s Randy Mauldin to speak with the Finance Committee about potentially saving the school system money while improving the buildings’ energy efficiency.
“There’s three things we say we can help: cities, counties and school systems. Number one, we get you new equipment, new controls, new technologies for your schools and cities; number two, we can save you drastic amounts of energy dollars; and number three, we can do this all without it costing you a penny,” Mauldin said.
The city will have to underwrite all loans for the school system for the improvements and the money will come out of the school’s operating budget. However, Mauldin said it was guaranteed to be a wash or better if they went through TRANE.
“That savings is then taken and invested back into your schools out of your existing budget,” he explained. “If we come in and we say we’re going to save you $110,000 a year and we fall short, we only save $90K that year, we write a check for the difference. If we say we’re going to save you $110,000 that year and we go over that, you keep the difference.”
He added the state’s Energy Efficient Schools Initiative fund has money it in Manchester can apply to use for such upgrades.
Vaughn explained they would need a memorandum of understanding between the city and TRANE for this to move forward – something that would need to be approved by BOMA.