The Winchendon School Committee heard the Superintendent's list of needed capital improvements at its meeting on Thursday, November 21. The list will be ordered by priority and submitted to the Capital Planning Committee for its next meeting on December 16.

A new generator is needed for Toy Town Elementary. The superintendant's office is located there making it a "command center" for the schools. Toy Town Elementary served as an emergency shelter after the 2009 ice storm when the entire town lost electrical service for a week or more. This would cost around $100,000 after some costs were covered by borrowing funds.

Murdock High School is a Red Cross shelter and during emergencies is used by the Board of Health, first responders and emergency crews, and can shelter residents. During the 2009 ice storm it was found that many areas of the building were not connected to the generator, for example, the kitchen and the bathroom ventilation fans. These things have now been added to the generator circuits.

Toy Town Elementary has battery powered emergency lights, and no back up heat or power of any kind. As a potential emergency shelter, it's more accessible to the center of town than Murdock High School. It also has a new $600,000 boiler that could freeze and suffer damage during a long outage. In past cold weather power outages, generators have been rented to protect the school's heating system.

Superintendent Landers spoke with Town Manager Keith Hickey, who said this would be a town priority because it potentially benefits town residents. He will discuss it with the Capital Planning Committee.

Stone retaining walls at the Murdock High/Middle School and Memorial School campus are falling apart. At one point, the building inspector was going to shut down schools because railings were falling down due to the disintegration of the stone walls supporting them. The Superintendent's office has a Written quote from an engineer of $5,000 to do an assessment and study of what the entire project will entail.

Murdock Middle/High School is only twenty-five years old and worth more than $40 million. It needs an upgraded security system to protect the building. There are some security cameras in place but a lot more are needed, along with security on all exterior doors and windows, more card readers for people to swipe ID cards as they enter the building, and so on. The Superintendent's office has a quote of $33,000 for all the improvements.

Murdock High/Middle School needs a new water heater. There are two; one works off the main boilers with an 80-gallon quick recovery tank. The boilers are shut down in the summer. A secondary water heater for the custodians to use for cleaning in the summer is "on its last legs" and shoulf be replaced.

Toy Town Elementary has a 1,000 gallon water heater which far exceeds the current needs of the school and is around 60 years old.

One of the boilers in Murdock High/Middle School was leaking; replacing sections of it over the summer stopped the leaks, but the boilers are the originals, 25 years old, and at the end of their useful life.

Security Cameras are being added incrementally each year, working toward the goal of everything that needs to be covered with cameras. Some have recently been added to Murdock High/Middle School and Memorial School. More are needed at Toy Town Elementary. The overall cost is estimated at around $63,000.

The lift at Toy Town Elementary is 21 years old. There was a major issue with it recently, and the technician had a lot of trouble finding the replacement parts. The lift was manufactured in England. The technician suggested that the schools think seriously about replacing it. It would cost around $100,000 to install a new lift. Without a lift, the building would not be compliant with ADA, and all the classes would have to be moved upstairs to be fully accessible. The School Committee needs to determine whether a new lift would still be ADA-compliant or whether an actual elevator would be required, which would cost far more.

A few weeks ago, the Board of Health essentially shut down Toy Town Elementary's kitchen because they stated that the rinse cycle in the dishwasher wasn't at a high enough temperature. The Superintendent's office began looking into the costs of replacing the dishwasher. Town Health Officer Jim Abare then found that the state specifies the dishwasher only needs to be 160 degrees Fahrenheit and it's rinsing at well above that temperature, so it's perfectly safe in the short term. The dishwasher was installed in 1987. While it has been maintained in pristine condition, it's well past its life expectancy.

None of the school parking lots have been resurfaced in at least 21 years. The surfaces get soft in the spring and there was one incident in which a fire truck got stuck. This is a related issue with the retaining walls. In one spot on Memorial Drive water sometimes runs over the road, and water also covers parts of the playground at Memorial School. These problems would all be fixed by repaving. It will be a very big job and probably will have to be done in stages. In 2011 the Superintendent's office had a quote just for repaving the high school parking lot of $110,000.

Superintendent Landers said that Mr. Hickey asked the schools to consider two other major capital expenditures: roofs and boilers. If the schools are proactive in having studies done, getting assessments of when work will have to happen and what estimated costs will be, it helps the town with long-term capital planning and provides more solid and detailed information for proposals and grants.

School Committee Chair Greg Vine noted, "These projects that we're looking at, we're talking about a lot of money." In the past, the schools have asked for town funding from Free Cash, but the availability of Free Cash varies year to year. The town hopes that the solar installations going in, and the approved marijuana retail businesses, will generate revenue for the town, but this is still an unknown. The Finance Committee is looking at establishing a policy for the town whereby a portion of the budget every year will be set aside specifically for capital projects. Capital expenditures would be a percentage of the town's operating budget rather than depending on Free Cash.

The School Committee discussed how best to prioritize these needs. All agreed that the criteria should be safety, the number of people impacted, cost, and timeliness--how urgently needed the project is. Some grant monies might be available for some of the expenses. Projects that would disrupt the students might be scheduled in the summer when the buildings are empty.

Any town residents with questions or concerns (or practical suggestions and solutions) should contact the School Committee or the Superintendent's Office. School Committee meetings are open to the public.