The Columbia School Board spent much of its March 19 meeting hearing from its district architect in an effort to gather information and decide on what projects the school district wanted to pursue over the summer.
Tim Kwiatkowski, a managing director with FGM Architects, spoke to the board about his firm’s proposed contract for completing the district’s 10-year health/life safety survey and a revised proposal by Trane U.S. Inc. for work in the district.
Regarding the survey, Kwiatkowski said it normally takes his employer three or four months to complete, but he is expediting the process for the Columbia School District.
The survey involves FGM Architects examining each of the district’s buildings in their entirety to classify any Health/Life Safety Code violations in terms of if they need to be addressed within one year, in one to three years or in three to 10 years.
Kwiatkowski also said his company will keep a running list of other maintenance needs the district might have that do not fall under those code violations.
“Quite frankly, you can kind of put that into a planning process or a master plan that way you can outline those items that are upcoming in future years,” Kwiatkowski said.
Kwiatkowski further explained his firm can rely on information provided by the staff, other companies or have its own consultants examine the district’s roofs, given that has been a contentious matter for the board.
He said FGM Architects will work to develop a thorough understanding of the district’s situation and offer financially sound suggestions.
“We don’t just make assumptions and push an agenda,” he emphasized.
Kwiatkowski said the same was true of the revised proposal submitted by Trane, the energy services company the district considered using for a $4.5 million project this summer before board members Tammy Hines, Greg Meyer and Lisa Schumacher voiced several concerns about the project and process.
Kwiatkowski said he studied the new proposal, which includes only the essential work on the district’s heating, ventilation and cooling systems at Columbia High School and Columbia Middle School, talking with the district’s director of maintenance and having a third party examine the numbers.
“It appears these numbers are really reasonable for the HVAC work,” Kwiatkowski said, noting the district is experiencing significant issues with its current equipment. “Rather than wait another year, because you’re maintaining these units for another year, I think it would be in your best interest to consider doing that HVAC work.
“We’ve got leaky valves. We’ve got things that need to be done. This mechanism is going to allow us to meet that schedule.”
Kwiatkowski said the same would not have been true if the district had used the traditional competitive bidding approach, as it could not have finished everything in time to complete the project this summer.
He also estimated the cost for this performance contract is within 1-3 percent of what the price would have been if the district had bid the work.
After a question from board member John Long, Kwiatkowski explained he has seen projects increase in cost by 20-30 percent, which was the number Hines and Meyer used when arguing against using a performance contract.
“I’ve discovered those kinds of things in the past, and this isn’t one of them,” he said.
“The problem with some performance contracting is they get too complex,” Kwiatkowski elaborated later in the meeting. “They start doing things that are just all over the map. This kind of sticks to the heart of the agenda of what performance contracting is, which is energy efficiency.”
Meyer was skeptical of that energy efficiency, saying the guaranteed savings in the contract seemed too good to be true.
“It seems awful far-fetched to me that we’re going to cut our energy bill by 90 percent,” he said. “We’re still going to have lights, we’ll still have computers, we’ll still have electric.”
Kwiatkowski pointed out that, under state law, the district would get some money back if Trane does not meet those guaranteed savings.
“That’s the advantage that you wouldn’t get going the traditional route,” he noted. “There’s a guaranteed 20-year savings plan, and I’d hold them accountable to it. That’s what the statute is built for.”
Kwiatkowski also addressed concerns that doing this HVAC work but not the roof work would be a problem, saying any patching that would need to be done from putting in new HVAC units would be “minor” compared to replacing a roof.
In order to get the HVAC work done this summer, Trane needs everything finalized by the end of March so it can get all the parts and obtain a grant to save the district some money.
So, the board had a special meeting Tuesday night to OK the contract and $2.5 million bond to pay for the work. Read next week’s Republic-Times for more on that.
Additionally, administrators told the board what the district has been doing since Illinois closed its schools March 17.
Interim Superintendent Victor Buehler said Assistant Superintendent Courtney Castelli has been leading the district in this difficult time.
“She’s done a super job,” Buehler said.
Castelli thanked maintenance staff and custodians for all the work they have done to clean the district’s buildings.
Board President Scott Middelkamp also commended Castelli, other administrators, faculty and staff for all their efforts.
“We’re in a tough situation, and I think we’ve made the best of it,” he said.
Buehler predicted the district may need to continue to do so, saying he did not think schools would be reopened when originally scheduled. The next day, Gov. JB Pritzker postponed the date for schools to reopen until April 8.
“I don’t have a good feeling about the rest of the school year myself, based on what I’m hearing,” Buehler said.