Aldermen approve $10.4 million in bonding for school projects

Milford’s Board of Aldermen recently approved $10.4 million in bonding for various school improvements, including improvements for two schools that officials last year considered closing.

The bonding package approved at the Feb. 2 Board of Aldermen’s meeting includes $1.6 million for renovations and upgrades at West Shore Middle School; $825,000 for various roof replacements; $1 million for school security upgrades; $2.1 million for hazardous material abatement at Jonathan Law and Foran high schools; $605,000 for traffic and safety improvements at Meadowside Elementary School; $3.6 million for roof and window replacements at Harborside Middle School, and $500,000 for upgrades to the intercom, bells and clocks at Harborside and West Shore middle schools.

According to Mayor Ben Blake, almost half of the more than $10 million will be eligible for reimbursement from the state.

Although the aldermen voted to bond for the projects, Republicans on the board tried to stall funding for work at Harborside Middle School and Live Oaks Elementary School because there was talk last year about closing one or both schools.

Talk of closing one or two elementary schools, and later talk of closing Harborside Middle School, surfaced during long-range planning for the city’s schools. Ultimately, however, the board voted not to close any schools.

Alderman Ray Vitali (R-5) said he had concerns about spending money for roof replacements at schools that officials had talked about closing.

“Some of these schools have been considered for closing,” Vitali said.

“There should have been a plan for a school closing,” he added.

James Richetelli Jr., the school district’s chief operations officer, told Vitali that the roof replacements are eligible for 50.7% reimbursement from the state, and that the roofs at all eight elementary schools need to be replaced. The $825,000 in bonding will pay for design work, he said.

Richetelli also pointed out that the Board of Education ultimately voted to keep all the schools open. “All the schools need roofs,” Richetelli said. “These roofs have been in the capital improvement plan a long time.”

Alderman Greta Stanford (D-1) said West Shore Middle School is her main concern. “Every time it rains several classes are flooded,” Stanford said. “I don’t think we can wait to have the roofs looked at.”

Board Chairman Philip Vetro (D-4), who is a local builder, said roof repairs should not be stalled, regardless of future plans for the buildings.

“You can’t let a building deteriorate,” Vetro said, “and it deteriorates from the top down. Either way, if a building needs repair, it should be repaired.”

Alderman Brian Bier (R-1) was concerned about the more than $3.5 million slated for window and roof replacements at Harborside Middle School: The Board of Education seemed very close to closing the school last year.

“If we spent $3.5 million on a school that would be closed, that would be embarrassing,” Bier said.

The aldermen also had questions about asbestos removal and other hazardous material abatement.

Alderman Stanford wanted to know, if the asbestos isn’t a problem in the schools now, why the school district spends so much to remove it. Richetelli said that in their intact form, asbestos tiles aren’t a problem, but over time they start to break down. Stanford still had some questions about that because she said abatement started 20 years ago.

Richetelli assured the aldermen that students are not put at risk during hazardous mitigation work because the process is strictly monitored and done in negative air pressure when students are not in the school.

He said about 60% of all the asbestos in the school buildings has been removed.

Alderman Bryan Anderson (D-5) noted his support for traffic flow and safety improvements at Meadowside Elementary School. “We need to reconfigure the parking area because it does put pedestrians at risk,” Anderson said.

While Republicans raised concerns about some of the bonding projects, they ultimately voted in favor of them because they said they didn’t want to put the city at risk of not getting state reimbursement for the work after it is complete.