Dan Hust | Democrat
DISTRICT ENGINEER ARNIE Bertsch shows roofing tiles samples to Sullivan West Board Member Noel van Swol at last Thursday's meeting.
SW mulls replacement of roof
By Dan Hust
LAKE HUNTINGTON Despite an estimated $4 million price tag, the Sullivan West Elementary School’s 1938 roof replacement may cost taxpayers nothing.
Then again, at Sullivan West, what’s initially been seen as a bargain has sometimes morphed into a costly conundrum.
Both those potentialities were acknowledged on Thursday, when the district’s board, administration and engineer Arnie Bertsche gathered in Lake Huntington to discuss options for an increasingly necessary roof repair.
Through a Powerpoint presentation rife with photographs, Bertsche convinced the board that the 70-year-old slate tiles had just about reached their life expectancy, and enough were damaged or sliding down to warrant a complete replacement rather than a piecemeal repair (which he estimated would actually cost more in the long run).
Plus the ornate gutter system is failing, letting water seep into the surrounding wood.
“If the roof fails, so will the building,” Bertsche warned.
But what to replace it with? Bertsche favored asbestos-cement tiles, but they’re no longer permitted. Plastic and rubber contenders were passed around that evening, but Bertsche doubted their warranties there’s little data on long-term performance, he said, and the roofing company that installed the 1994 building’s roof had gone out of business when it came time to cash in on a warranty promise.
All other options were subject to cracking and warping, he said leaving slate as his preference.
“I would stick with the natural slate,” Bertsche recommended, noting its 75-year life expectancy.
The current cost per square foot is actually less for slate ($681) than the best non-slate alternative ($840), plus Bertsche said the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) is eager to work with officials to grant up to $600,000 but only if slate is used.
Nevertheless, board members Angela Daley and Noel van Swol decried the fact that the Jeffersonville structure is subject to a more rigorous and costly rehab because it is listed on the state and national historic registers.
“We’re not running a museum,” said Daley. “It’s very nice to be on the registry… but I have a hard time believing we have to be forced into something much more expensive.”
“It appears that it was a monumental error for the Jeffersonville-Youngsville [Central School] board to place the school on the national register without considering the long-term impact,” lamented van Swol, referencing a 1988 decision.
SW Assistant Superintendent for Business Larry Lawrence said the “very preliminary” estimate of $4 million may actually be high, though Daley started to worry when she heard him say the State Education Department would likely provide 95 percent aid on aidable costs a concept made infamous when it was confusingly used to promote the school merger back in 1999.
“I want to see this in writing from the state,” said Daley.
That, however, can’t happen until (1) the board votes to proceed with a roof replacement, and (2) the public votes in agreement.
Lawrence noted Daley’s and other board members’ concerns, assuring that the public referendum would only be approving the use of an estimated $1.5 million in capital reserve monies not requiring any expenditures.
“Before we actually borrow the money,” he said, “we’ll have this conversation again.”
At that point, an estimated $2 million will be bonded for 15 years, and preliminary calculations indicate state aid would completely cover the annual debt payment.
But board members made clear to Lawrence and Supt. Ken Hilton that they want as certain a cost projection as possible and that the public will demand such should it go to a vote.
So over the next few weeks, district administrators will be crunching numbers for a variety of scenarios presented Thursday night. With contractors already expressing interest, the goal is to have information ready in time for a public vote in May.
They’ll also be looking into legal options, as Bertsche and van Swol both indicated some of these issues could have been resolved with more oversight and care during the circa-2002 renovations work.
Bertsche noted that funds were diverted from the Jeff project to the Lake Huntington high school’s construction, prompting van Swol to call for an investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office.
Daley didn’t think that would help matters, with board member Ken Cohen adding that he felt the roof had simply reached its end.
“This is the normal course of things,” he remarked. “We have to deal with it.”