FARMINGTON — RSU 9 Superintendent Tom Ward told school directors Tuesday that he had good news for them about getting the second floor of the Mallett School air conditioned: An architect is working on options.
The first floor of the school, built in 2011, has air conditioning, but temperatures on the second floor reach 85 to 90 degrees during the spring and fall.
The cost of the school construction project was estimated at $18.9 million in 2009 with the state paying for the bulk of it and district taxpayers paying roughly $75,000.
The board voted to send the air-conditioning project out to bid, but not spend any money now. Director Ross Clair of Chesterville abstained from the vote.
Prior to the vote, Ward said architect Stephen Blatt, whose Portland firm designed the school, called him Monday.
“He is very concerned about the issue. He is working on some possible other options,” Ward said. “He is willing to work with us to reach an agreement.”
At the board’s Jan. 28 meeting, district Director of Support Services David Leavitt put a proposal before the board to spend $300,000 for air conditioning for the second-floor rooms and place a 40-ton chiller unit on the roof.
At that time, the board asked to get costs for litigation against the architect firm.
Ward said he and Leavitt feel that they need to move ahead with the bid process once the district hears from the architect. He asked the board to give approval to put the project out to bid with no money attached.
“We will continue to negotiate some type of reasonable agreement,” Ward said.
The Thayer Corp. of Auburn, with which the district has a contract with and was not involved in building the school, also looked at the problem and came up with a system that cost $150,000 more than the $300,000, Leavitt said.
Director Steve Bunker on Farmington, who was participating in the meeting on Skype from Florida, said there was more than the cost of buying the system to consider. He asked who would pay for maintenance.
Leavitt said the cost is estimated at $1,870 a year.
The new system will make the building more usable and is a good addition, Ward said.
“The real need for air conditioning is in the fall and spring when school is in session,” he said. There is also a possible need in the summer, if programs are going on.
Director James Black of Wilton said the system would be a Band-Aid fix to the problem. It is a very poorly designed building, he said.
“It is going to be an ongoing expense as long as we have that building,” Black said.
There would be a cost offset with the school no longer paying to run the eight portable air conditioners or the 10 to 14 fans, Principal Tracy Williams said.
Clair wanted to know why the district was put in this situation.
Leavitt said he spoke to Steve Brown, who heads the construction division at the Maine Department of Education. He said the state just doesn’t pay for air conditioning, Leavitt said.
Somebody really fell down on this, Clair said. It is not Arkansas or Louisiana, he said.
“Is the state going to continue to screw up?” he asked.
Previously, Ward said the building was built the way it was because it was the only way it would fit on the lot with the old Mallett School still existing prior to being demolished.
The state needs to look at how schools are built in the future due to them being built so tight and so efficient, Leavitt said.
Leavitt has been asked to consult on two new building projects in other school systems, he said.
The new school buildings in Franklin County, including the Mt. Blue Campus in Farmington, are excellent buildings, Leavitt said. The community should be proud of those buildings and all the other buildings in the district, he said.
The issues in the new schools are wrinkles that will be worked out, he said.