GASD school board votes against, then approves $19.5 million capital project

AMSTERDAM – The School Board of the Greater Amsterdam School District has rejected and then reversed this decision to approve a contract with an architectural firm for the design of a multi-phase investment project for air filtration and ventilation. air estimated at $19.5 million.

The contract with Bernier, Carr & Associates authorizes payment to the company based on the total cost of the capital project. The compensation schedule provides that BCA will receive 4% of a project of $15 million or more for the development of final designs. The company will receive another 2% commission for the administration of the construction.

Jeffrey McKenna, director of mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineering for BCA, presented the school board on Wednesday with preliminary plans for the project the company began preparing for the district over the summer “to create safe and healthy schools”.

The primary goal of the project is to improve air filtration and ventilation in each of the district’s school buildings to maintain the health and safety of students and staff amid the pandemic.

McKenna said the focus was on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the State Education Department and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.

The project calls for the installation of high level Merv-13 air filters in existing air handling units in buildings in the district capable of accepting equipment capable of removing fine particles and viruses from the air. air. The fans in these units would additionally be rebalanced to work properly with the higher tier air filters.

The project would replace all air handling units in all buildings in the district that are unable to accept high level air filters. The work would also involve replacing aging boilers at Lynch College and Amsterdam High School.

“When you increase ventilation, you have to heat that air more to cool your buildings. You can’t just bring in 20 degree air in the winter months without conditioning it,” McKenna said.

Additionally, the project would replace McNulty Academy’s water-cooled cooling unit with an air-cooled unit. McKenna said maintaining the existing unit is labor intensive and the open cooling tower is subject to annual inspection and reporting to the state health department.

The project would be split into three phases with work at Lynch, Tecler Elementary School and Barkley Elementary School scheduled for next summer. Those costs would be paid for with $5 million in federal coronavirus relief assistance from the U.S. District Rescue Plan and $2.5 million in federal funding from the Federal Emergency Relief and Response Supplementary Appropriation Act. coronavirus paid by state education department.

The second phase of work would take place at the Lycée and the Marie Curie Institute in the summer of 2023. This project component of approximately $4 million would be covered by the remaining funds from the $48.9 million capital project. dollars from the district that was approved by voters in March 2016, as well as reserve funds.

The third and final phase would also be completed that same summer at McNulty. This component of the project would be the subject of a public referendum, tentatively scheduled for March. State building assistance would be sought to cover about 97% of the $8 million planned work at the school, with the remaining funds coming from district reserves.

McKenna described McNulty as the most difficult building to retrofit due to the existing HVAC system’s use of mostly class unit fans that cannot accept higher-level air filters. This phase of the project will include the installation of ventilation systems throughout the school.

Board of Education member Mark Kowalczyk asked if an upgrade to higher-level air filters was necessary and how the units would affect the district’s annual energy costs given the additional power needed to move the air through. through dense filters.

McKenna pointed out that the upgrades meet a health safety recommendation to limit the possible spread of the coronavirus by improving overall circulation, while potentially removing the virus from the air. He acknowledged that there could be increased energy costs associated with the higher airflow that would be required, but had no estimate.

However, he noted that the new boilers planned for Lynch and the high school would be more energy efficient than existing systems.

School Affairs Officer Colleen DiCaprio added that the district will budget for annual cost increases once the work is complete.

In the meantime, she said the district has already incurred increased costs by increasing airflow with existing systems, replacing low-level filters with higher-level units when possible, and purchasing approximately 200 air purifiers for use in classrooms that currently receive little to no air circulation.

“Right now we’re spending extra costs providing air purifiers in a lot of these classrooms to make our staff feel comfortable. They’ve asked for them. Are we bickering at the about air filtration or are our teachers not coming? We have these issues. We have teachers who want to come into a building that they feel safe in,” DiCaprio said.

Superintendent Richard Ruberti noted that the district is currently exceeding the minimum requirements for air filtration and ventilation in each of its buildings with the actions already implemented, but said further improvement is a concern” major” raised by families and staff when planning the full return of all students. at school.

Still, Kowalczyk expressed concern about the potential for substantial increases in long-term energy costs associated with the project that were not calculated by the architect, and that the company is collecting a percentage based on the overall project cost for its work.

“We could pay 20% more for heating and cooling over the next few years,” he said. “To me it reads the cost of the project is as high as it could be because that’s how they get paid…on $19 million at 4% they’re looking to make $760,000 .”

Kowalczyk offered to file a suit on the contract until the next board meeting. The motion was defeated 2-3, with only Kowalczyk and school board member Gavin Murdoch voting in favor of tabling the resolution. Council members JoMarie DiTata and the Reverend Kent A. McHeard were absent from the meeting.

The resolution to the contract was then put to a vote which failed 3-2, with Kowalczyk and Vice Chairman of the Board Curtis Peninger voting against the measure.

Curtis called for the resolution to be reconsidered after school attorney William Mycek pointed out that a majority of the entire board, or four affirmative votes, was needed to pass the resolution.

Ahead of the re-vote, Kowalczyk suggested the contract be amended before it was approved while questioning the short time the board had to review the multi-page document.

“I don’t think I’m being unreasonable. We are arguing more and more over nickels and dimes,” Kowalczyk said.

Given the concerns and the magnitude of the contract, council member Michael Villa asked if a special meeting should be held to review the contract when absent members could be present to weigh in.

The discussion turned when DiCaprio noted that BCA had prepared preliminary plans for the project and had already assisted the district in its efforts to improve air quality until all of the work could be completed in ” believing in good faith that they were going to be paid”.

Kowalczyk agreed to “give in,” while pointing out that the district may eventually be forced to spend the balance of the funds to cover the increased heating and cooling associated with the project.

The resolution of the contract was finally approved 5-0. The actual scope of work involved in the individual phases of the project and the planning for a public referendum will be subject to Board approval at future meetings.

Contact Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.

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