High school roof problem needs to be fixed

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OVERHEAD VIEW --; This overhead view of the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School roof shows the locations of the HVAC units and the locations of the phased-in replacement project.

PARIS — It will cost an estimated $4.5 million to replace the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School’s roof and its HVAC system.

That’s the message Superintendent Rick Colpitts gave the SAD 17 Board of Directors at its March 5 meeting during an informational presentation on the problematic roof.

The 20-year-old roof structure remains stable but its membrane has developed leaks that require ongoing patching. Additionally, two of the nine HVAC units on top of the massive roof are leaking coolant. Officials say the problems will have to be addressed in the future.

The information was provided as part of a series of presentations by Colpitts that target four primary areas of concern by the SAD 17 Board of Directors. The superintendent asked the directors late last year to prioritize areas of concern so that they could be aware of the impact on the budgets.

The roof issues have been ongoing and because of that, the Operations Committee had recommended that the district begin to save up money for the eventual roof and HVAC replacement work. To date the reserve fund has almost $300,000 in it.

The 180,000-square-foot roof that was installed in 1998 with a 15-year warranty, has cost the district a total of $54,000 in repairs since 2008 and a total of $30,000 has been spent on roof inspections since 2008.

The nine HVAC systems, which are said to be the largest on a school roof in the state, costs the district $49,000 annually for service and maintenance. The two units that are leaking air conditioning coolant require an annual recharge at a cost of $1,000 to $1,500.

Colpitts said if the current HVAC units are replaced, they can not be replaced with the same type of units. Each new unit would cost between $200,000 and $400,000. Installing new ones would save the district about $40,000.

“Today’s are more efficient,” he said.

Colpitts said there are three ways to address the situation.

  • The roof’s membrane could be replaced, and HVAC units left alone for a cost of $1.3 million. Funding could be over a four-year period,
  • The roof and the HVAC units could be replaced at a cost of $1.3 million for the roof and $3.2 million for the HVAC units.
  • Both could be replaced in phases but could result in higher costs.

Funding could come from several different sources.

  • Bonding: The project could be bonded, but that would be an “enormous stress” on the taxpayer, Colpitts said.
  • Lease-purchase: It could be paid through a 20-year lease-purchase agreement but with the caveat that the project would never pay for itself.
  • Performance Contract: It could be done through a Performance Contract, that would combine both the roof and HVAC projects. The district has Performance Contracts for other projects in the district.

Any of the three options could be offset if there are grants through Efficiency Maine, the state’s Revolving Renovation grants (that will forgive 48 percent of the project, but the district would still be liable for 52 percent of the costs) or Federal school renovation grants, he said.

“I don’t think you’re prepared to do it (projects) in the near future, but it’s something  you need to be aware of because there are leaks and the only way to stop it is to replace the roof and that means a significant burden on the taxpayer,” said Colpitts.

Colpitts suggested that the board continue to replaceleaking roof sections and insulation as it becomes less efficient and ceiling tile damage occurs.

Director Bob Jewell, who represents Paris, said  the job won’t get any cheaper in the future.

“I don’t think anyone here would let a roof continually leak year after year,” said Jewell. “This has been a problem for a long time. We just recently started to put money aside to take care of it. In five years it won’t be any cheaper.”

Additionally he said if the leaks continue there are increased opportunities for other problems such as mold.

“I just don’t think we can continue to let this go. Everybody’s known this but it hasn’t been addressed. From a board level we need to seriously look at how do we fix this because it’s not going to get any cheaper.”

Colpitts has suggested that Seimens, which has a  Performance Contract with SAD 17, do a scope of work study. No cost estimate of that study is available yet, he said.

Colpitts reminded the board that the  high school roof is not the only building with issues in the district, he said.

“We have some aging facilities, there’s no doubt about it,” said Colpitts referring to the Rowe Elementary, Agnes Gray and Oxford Hills Middle School that each need attention. “None of them are as complicated as the high school with the exception of Paris Elementary which is also air conditioned.”

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net