Regional School Unit 18 schools will get a $2.2 million upgrade for aging heating and ventilation systems that the superintendent says will pay for itself with efficiency savings.

But other officials in the Oakland-based district say they’re concerned about a lack of public input about the upgrade.

The Honeywell Performance Contract Phase IV was approved in a unanimous 9-0 vote by the RSU 18 board last week. In a separate vote, the financing for the contract passed with eight approvals from the nine-member board, with board member Andy Cook, of Rome, abstaining over concerns he had about the approval process.

The project, which will cost $2,226,000 over 20 years, consists of renovating and upgrading deteriorating HVAC systems in schools in the district, Superintendent Gary Smith said. For example, it will replace Messalonskee High School’s cafeteria air unit, which dates back to the 1960s. Other upgrades will get schools up to code, according to a planning document he provided.

The district includes eight schools in Oakland, Rome, Sidney, Belgrade and China. About 13 upgrades are planned for Messalonskee middle and high schools.

The budget and finance committee voted to bring the contract to the board meeting for approval at a morning meeting on June 10.

Cook, who is on the budget committee, said that while he agrees the upgrades are necessary, the contract should have gone to a public vote.

“My concern is that we are going to cause an indebtedness for taxpayers for a 20-year time period without going to a public vote,” he said before the school board took the vote on the contract last week, Wednesday. “I just think it’s very ugly.”

Smith said Maine performance contracting law allows the board to enter into lease-purchase contracts without going to a public vote. Schools in Maine use lease purchases to buy school buses and other big ticket items quite often, Smith said.

The district is using energy and operational savings, as well as debt refinancing, to fund the project, Smith said. Funding was included in the 2016-17 approved budget and payments on the contract will be listed in future budgets, but expenses in the budget will be offset by savings, he said.

RSU 18 also chose Honeywell International because the company guarantees a certain amount of savings for schools in their contracts.

The two schools spend a combined $283,144 on electricity and heating costs, and Smith expects the new system will save $1,162,030 in energy and operational costs, as well as up to $50,000 in Maine efficiency rebates.

At a June 13 Rome selectmen’s meeting, Cook said, “There’s probably no question that the HVAC systems need improvement,” but he also said he was concerned about the process.

After hearing from Cook about the contract, Rome Selectman Richard LaBelle said it seemed “very shady” to him. He said he didn’t think the RSU 18 budget would have passed if voters had known about the Honeywell project, although he agreed that the repairs were probably necessary.

The $34.6 million budget passed May 24 in a referendum.

Before the board’s meeting last Wednesday, its members reviewed the past year’s budget process. Board members discussed what they wanted to change next year, such as finding ways to better market the budget, increase teacher involvement and stop the spread of misinformation about the school budget.

The district also is collecting applications to fill the principal’s position at Messalonskee High School, previously held by Jon Moody. A committee is compiling interview questions and will send finalists to Smith, Chief Academic Officer Carl Gartley said.

The Mid-Maine Regional Adult and Community Education recently received a $7,000 grant from Dollar General that will go toward programs to help needier students who aren’t prepared for the program’s current courses, said Chairman Jim Isgro.

Madeline St. Amour – 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour


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