Democrat File Photo
THE CUPOLA AT the top of the original portion of the Sullivan West Elementary School in Jeffersonville has leakage problems that must be fixed, say officials.
Roof Repairs Could Be Added to SWCSD Lawsuit List
By Dan Hust
LAKE HUNTINGTON December 11, 2007 Another lawsuit could be added to the list at Sullivan West.
School board members on Thursday were told by Superintendent Ken Hilton and Assistant Superintendent for Business Larry Lawrence that the elementary school in Jeffersonville requires roof repairs around the cupola of the 1938 wing.
“I don’t think this roof has been worked on since 1938,” remarked Hilton, who estimated work on the roof and other projects would total $700,000.
But several board members were of the mind that roof work should have been done or at least investigated by contractors during the campus’ $10 million renovation more than five years ago.
“Seems to me the first thing anybody should have looked at would have been the 1938 roof,” observed board member Noel van Swol, who postulated that it was “deliberately overlooked.”
“I thought the roof was renovated in some capacity,” added board member Angela Daley, who had served on the board during that period of time. “. . . I hope we aren’t overlooking something in our lawsuit.”
She was referring to the suits SW has brought against some of the contractors involved in the construction of the Lake Huntington high school and the renovations to the three pre-existing campuses, two of which are now closed.
“To the best of my knowledge, this roof wasn’t part of the project,” explained Lawrence, but district leaders promised to find out for sure and include it in the ongoing litigation if the board so desires.
In the meantime, the board unanimously approved applying an already-budgeted $700,000 to roof repairs and, if there’s money left over, to unfinished technology and electrical wiring at the elementary school, as well as restroom fixture reconstruction.
A firestorm over Firestorm
Board members near unanimously declined to participate in a BOCES-coordinated application for a shared municipal services grant that would fund a $1.7 million safety and disaster recovery plan spanning the county’s eight public school districts.
While several board members and even Hilton did not see the need (considering the district already has an emergency plan in place), the larger concern was about Firestorm Solutions, which would write and submit the application for BOCES.
Board member Richard Tegnander told his colleagues that the Rhulen family, which founded and operates Firestorm, “ran Frontier Insurance into the ground” several years ago and thus has “a very poor reputation.”
“I’m very uneasy with this,” agreed van Swol, expressing reservations about a two-year-old company “whose principals have a checkered background.”
Accusations were lodged by board members that Firestorm had possibly made BOCES aware of the grant just so it could write not only the grant application but the disaster plan itself.
Firestorm CEO Harry Rhulen said nothing could be further from the truth.
“It will be a very solid group of competitors that bid on this RFP [Request for Proposals],” he remarked yesterday from Firestorm’s Colorado headquarters.
Firestorm will write the grant application at no charge to the involved districts (all of which approved it, save SW), but no fee will be due unless the grant is approved by New York State.
And at that point, companies will be invited to submit proposals and prices for drafting the disaster plan.
“Firestorm would love to be the one that wins the RFP process . . . but no way is that certain,” said Rhulen.
While he doesn’t blame SW for feeling rushed (the grant deadline is December 14), he considered the board’s criticism of his family’s operation of Frontier “shortsighted” though understandable, considering the physical, financial and emotional impacts of Frontier’s sudden downfall.
In the end, Rhulen said he and his sister (and fellow Firestorm principal), Suzanne Rhulen-Loughlin, want to see their home county as safe as possible in any emergency.
Firestorm, which has access to experts like former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop and provided assistance to Virginia Tech in the aftermath of its tragic shootings, plans to write a grant for a program that will enable Sullivan County’s public schools to share resources, information and even space should floods, fires, weapons use or other disasters befall them.
Sullivan West, however, won’t be involved, thanks to Thursday’s 8-1 vote against participating.
Only Anna Niemann voted “yes,” explaining, “I don’t see any downside.”
The rest of the board wasn’t so sure a fact not missed by Hilton.
Though he acknowledged that there are potential security issues the rural district may not “carefully think about,” he also admitted, “You can tell I’m ambivalent about it, too.”
BOCES District Supt. Martin Handler said SW’s rejection of the grant application will not stop the process, instead simply confining it to the seven other area districts that said “yes.”
“It will not be as strong a package,” he remarked.
In other business
Other items of note at Thursday’s board meeting:
• Shaun Sensiba, Rose Crotty and van Swol volunteered for the resurrected Facility Needs Committee, which will study and recommend to the board uses for SW’s two open and two closed campuses.
Ken Cohen wanted to also be on the committee, but since they’re restricted to three board members per committee, he will have to sit in as board vice president, standing in for President Rich Sandler.
Though the committee can’t take any action on the matters it discusses, the public is welcome to view the deliberations, starting with the first meeting on January 28 from 6:30-8 p.m. at a location to be determined.
• Hilton announced that a strategic plan will be in place by this summer, involving faculty, staff and the community. A forum will be held to that end sometime in January.
• Trojans signs and artwork in Jeffersonville will be updated to reflect SW’s Bulldogs mascot, but Treasurer Lorraine Poston and others have found various items of memorabilia and sports jerseys from the three pre-merged schools that will be handed over to the district’s Memorabilia Committee, local town historians or sold at auction in the spring.
• The next school board meeting has been changed from January 3 to January 10 at 7 p.m. at the high school in Lake Huntington.