Removal of oil tanks could cost Vernon schools more than $1 million

VERNON – Old oil tanks in six school buildings have the Board of Education shelving its budget proposal for now as the cost to replace the tanks could be upward of $1 million.
Tests are being conducted next week on the six tanks, located at Skinner Road, Center Road, Maple Street, Northeast and Vernon Center Middle schools, as well as the Administration Building on Park Street to see if they remain viable.

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The results of those tests will determine how much the board needs to allocate in capital improvements for next year’s budget.

According to Richard Parrott, director of plant operations, the total cost to replace all six tanks is estimated at $1.5 million, with roughly 70 percent eligible for state reimbursement.

Parrott told board members Monday that state Department of Environmental Protection regulations require all six tanks be replaced, as they are 20 years old. The state could levy fines if leaking or rotted tanks are not replaced, Parrott said.

The tests should show if there are any structural problems with the tanks, school officials say.

Board members decided to postpone budget deliberations until Feb. 11 after the tests were completed.

“I’m concerned over how much of this is actually reimbursable,” board member Dean Poole said, adding, “If these tanks pass the test, it could be zero cost to us this year, but I’m not real confident about that. I’d like to wait to send the budget to Town Hall until the tests are completed.”

Board member George Apel pointed out that the potential project was large enough to warrant a bidding process, and that the cost estimate is not a firm figure.

School Superintendent Richard Paskiewicz told the board there was a possibility the cost could be phased in over three years.

Also, staff is gathering cost estimates for tapping into the existing gas lines in lieu of replacing the oil tank in the administration building, Paskiewicz said.

“I’d like to know if we need to put anything in the budget at all before we go further” with deliberations, school board Chairwoman Catherine Rebai said.

The 2007-08 education budget, which was trimmed extensively during the four referendum votes, totaled $44.15 million.

Preliminary numbers for the 2008-09 education budget proposal total $46.34 million, a 4.9 percent increase over this year.

Those figures do not include capital projects spending or potential costs to replace the oil tanks.

Apel and board member David Kemp also raised budgetary alarms Monday over enrollment, which now stands at 3,651 students.

“I’m concerned over a 9 percent drop in enrollment from June 1, 2006, to January 2008 – that’s substantial,” Apel said, adding, “It’s hard to explain to people why the school budget keeps going up when enrollment figures keep going down.”

Paskiewicz reminded board members that they eliminated all-day kindergarten in some elementary schools this year, which affected enrollment figures.

And the budget also reflects a loss of two retiring teachers whose positions won’t be filled because of the drop in enrollment, Paskiewicz added.

Birth rates have indicated that enrollment should increase slightly next year, he said.

The board has until the end of February to submit its proposed budget to the mayor.

©Journal Inquirer 2008
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