Togetherness Inspires Confidence for Tri-Town Stakeholders

            A meeting of the Marion’s Capital Improvement Planning Committee became a breakthrough event, as representatives from Mattapoisett, Rochester, and the Old Rochester Regional School District participated in a report meant to open new doors between Tri-Town officials.

            The rubber met the road as Howie Barber, ORR’s assistant superintendent of finance and operations, discussed ORR’s and Sippican Elementary School’s Fiscal Year 2022 capital requests and shared financial information pertaining not only to the district in general but specifically to Sippican School.

            Along with Marion CIPC members, Finance Committee Member John Menzel, and Town Administrator Jay McGrail, sitting in on the November 19 Zoom meeting were Dave Arancio from the Rochester Finance Committee, Mattapoisett CPC Chairman Chuck McCullough and member Ellen Driscoll, ORR School Committee member Heather Burke of Marion, ORR Superintendent of Schools Mike Nelson, ORR Facilities Director Gene Jones, and Jill Henesey, ORR’s director of food services.

            “This gathering is great. This is what we’ve needed for some time,” said McCullough. “The view from Mattapoisett has been, if you’re not serious about it, we can’t take it seriously.”

            As Chairman Paul Naiman explained at the joint meeting, the Marion CIPC was formed to identify capital projects for the coming fiscal year, prioritize them, and act as an advisory group to the Finance Committee and Board of Selectmen. The CIPC also formats its recommendations according to a 10-year program. Naiman said the CIPC ranks capital projects based on an objective format.

            “We really try to take our subjectivity out of the effort,” said Naiman, inviting dialogue and sharing of information and practices with representatives from Mattapoisett and Rochester and the ORR School District.

            Arancio, who chairs Rochester’s Zoning Board of Appeals, was pleased to hear another town’s capital projects being discussed openly. “I’m in safety and risk management, so I deal with [COVID-19] every day. But I’m trying to be positive that someday this will be behind us, and all of [these projects] will be in front of us again. We’re looking at a fire station (in Rochester), [and] Old Colony has needs,” said Arancio.

            Naiman said Marion residents like to see a plan with contingencies should things change. “We know it’s coming; we may not know when it’s coming, so we create a placeholder,” he said.

            “It only works if all three towns move forward together, so we have to think about how we maintain ORR a little more holistically,” said Burke. She stressed that although town meeting warrants seldom include ORR-related articles, “It has to be understood these are capital costs, not part of the school budget. Teachers’ salaries don’t go down because there’s a new track.”

            The repair/upgrade to the high school track was one of several highlighted capital projects discussed by Barber and Jones. Barber is a new member of ORR’s Central Office, while Jones has institutional knowledge dating back decades.

            Other ORR-related capital projects affecting FY22 include a track rehab project with a full resurfacing totaling $360,000. Jones says Lanes 1 and 2 of the track are one year away from becoming a safety hazard, which he says would require an immediate shutdown of the facility. To be done in stages from 2022 to 2025 are asphalt repairs for the parking lot at the cost of $20,000.

            Sippican Elementary School is facing several capital needs for FY22.

            New food-service coolers would cost $16,000; since the school is currently renting coolers, it would save $200 per month by buying a replacement that would last 10-19 years.

            The entire community uses Sippican’s playground, and among the upgrades being sought are wheelchair accessibilities that would put the facility in code and a synthetic surface requiring $36,000 appropriation for 10-20 years of life. Jones told the meeting that he made a similar upgrade at Old Hammondtown School and recommended towns look into such upgrades for their playgrounds.

            Jones said there are no known grant opportunities to fund the playground upgrade. Nelson added that ORR applied for a matching grant for a similar need but was not selected. “We do chase every dollar available, including competitive and matching grants,” said Nelson.

            Sippican needs to replace the remaining old floor that is over 20 years old and starting to curl at the edges, and Jones sees an eight-year plan to replace it in stages. “It’s like painting a bridge. We started at one end,” he said.

            The school’s window seals are failing, affecting the HVAC system. Jones said the windows are functional, but the nitrogen seal has failed, giving them a case of cloudy glass. “I’d rather fix them now, and then we don’t have to replace the window,” he said. “Resealing all the windows will save money on heating and air conditioning.”

            Sippican’s food-service equipment is estimated to be 21-22 years old, and the age of some equipment acquired from another school is unknown and needs replacement. Some of the ovens are starting to fail now, and there has been no new furniture bought into the school since 2001. The school’s four tennis courts are also in need of rehab.

            Barber said ORR has tried to maintain a value of around $40,000 to $50,000 to provide some consistency in the annual assessment to each of the Tri-Towns.

            Ten-year plans were also outlined for ORR and Sippican.

            Naiman said he was happy to be a conduit and hopes the three towns “can continue with this kind of collaboration.” McCullough suggested meetings every few or couple of months. Nelson stated his goal to improve communications and committed “to meet as regularly as needed.”

            McGrail called the gathering “fantastic” and “ideal,” and Marion Selectman John Waterman, also a member of the CIPC, said it’s also good that Marion officials now know some of their Tri-Town counterparts. “Beyond this meeting, we can reach out and discuss things, be on the same page.”

            The next meeting of the Marion CIPC is scheduled for Wednesday, December 9.

Marion Capital Improvement Planning Committee

By Mick Colageo

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