The Little Compton School Committee took several steps Wednesday night to prepare for an upcoming campaign to bond the new school construction, including a 3-1 vote in favor of recommending a town-wide referendum on the project in the spring instead of a financial town meeting (FTM). The Town Council will have the final say on how the town chooses to vote on the school bonding.
Member Lynn Lebreux voted against having a referendum.
"This is crunch time," Chairman Don Gomez said. "We need to fire up the parents and [we] need them at the meetings."
First, the committee voted 4-0 to approve a contract with the architect handling the latest work. Building Committee Chairman Tom Allder said since the fall, they have completed the work on the cafeteria egress and are working on fixing the leaky roofs on Wilbur-McMahon School. He said the Board of Regents at the Rhode Island Department of Education approved an $11.3 million bond last fall for emergency repair work, which includes an initial $300,000 installment on the egress and cafeteria work. He said the town is looking to bond the $11 million on the roof repairs.
Before approving the architect's contract, the school's attorney, Ben Scungio, recommended an addendum to the contract for insurance purposes pertaining to "consequential damages."
"I reviewed their specs," Scungio said about the firm, adding that with these sorts of contracts, if a claims dispute should arise, it exempts the firm from consequential damages. With property damage, if the roof falls in, the firm is liable for the sustained damages. With consequential damages, such as a design flaw where students have to be housed elsewhere for safety purposes, the liability cost comes back to the district, Scungio said.
"We might be on the hook, but it is remote," he said. "It's a risk tolerence issue."
Next, Allder revealed there's a lot of outreach and public preparation needed over the next six weeks before the school project is put before Little Compton voters, especially relaying the correct information on the bond, its duration and the potential increase to the property tax rate.
The committee voted 4-0 to approve $10,000 toward an outreach program for the bond and voted 4-0 to approve Heather Fitzgerald, of the Little Compton Education Foundation, to be outreach coodinator. Allder and Fitzgerald will work together on putting together brochures and any other forms of advertising for the project.
"We're going to be as frugal as we can," Allder said.
Last, the committee debated the merits of an FTM versus a referendum on the project. Committee members, including Joseph Quinn, leaned on a referendum catering to the crowd who normally would not able to make an FTM, such as the elderly, young families needing to watch the kids, people working second and third shifts and those who want to mail in absentee ballots. A referendum would require at least 50 days notification, where an FTM would only require 10 days.
"This is the biggest dollar vote for a building project this town has ever run into," Quinn said, adding it would be disappointing for a poor FTM turnout. "It's really the size of the annual operating budget."
Jim Gibney sick
Superintendent Kathy Crowley announced that Principal Jim Gibney is out sick in the hospital indefinitely and Curriculum Coordinator Janet Griffith is the interim school principal for the foreseeable future.
Committee Vice Chairman Dave Beauchemin was absent Wednesday night for a personal matter.