Sherman School had set up buckets due to leaking roof. Officials clash on how to fix it

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox
The Sherman School

The Sherman School

Contributed photo

SHERMAN — Parts of The Sherman School’s roof are in very poor shape, according to town officials — and needs repair immediately.

The question that’s in dispute, however, is if a permanent or temporary roof should be put on at this time.

First Selectman Don Lowe believes the portions of the roof need to be replaced now, while the Board of Education said a temporary roof should be installed for the time being.

The vote

The Sherman Board of Education initially recommended permanently replacing portions of the roof due to its condition. Roof sections on The Sherman School vary in age from 1991 to 2014. Approximately 50 percent of the overall roof area is out of warranty and beyond industry standards for a useful life of about 20 years, according to Brian Berlandi, Board of Education chairman.

At a meeting on Sept. 14, voters unanimously approved funds not to exceed $575,000 for a permanent replacement of the roof.

“A very convincing presentation was given at the Sept. 14 Town Meeting that showed photos of buckets set out to catch water from the leaks, stained ceilings and floors from water leaks, and diagrams as to where exactly the new roof would go. Subsequently, a roomful of voters unanimously approved an amount not to exceed $575,000 for the new roof,” First Selectman Don Lowe said in a newsletter he wrote to the town.

“We finally did what has needed to be done for about three years and went through the bidding process,” he added in a telephone conversation with Hearst Connecticut Media.

Rescinding the vote

The Board of Education’s Maintenance Committee later consulted with the State Office of School Construction Grants and Review, which suggested to repair, rather than replace, the 1991 roof sections at this time. The office suggested an architect be hired to develop a full plan to take into account any unforeseen issues that can arise when the old sections of the roof are taken down.

The state wouldn’t provide a grant for the approved project. The town would otherwise be eligible to be reimbursed 25 percent of the cost.

Board of Education member Matt Vogt, who is also chairman of the town’s Special Committee on Capital Planning and a member of its Maintenance Committee, said initially, “there was no plan in place for dealing with that. There was no money allocated for that. If we start to pull off that roof, we may have an emergency situation that we will have to deal with, with kids in classrooms.”

He said he would like to prevent “a potential physical evacuation of the building” or having to “move kids around quickly” and the unexpected costs that can occur from that.

“So we said we need to pump the brakes here and redevelop this plan the right way,” he said.

At the Sept. 29 Board of Education meeting, by a 4 to 3 vote, the board rescinded its prior recommendation for a permanent roof and, instead, recommended patching the roof temporarily while a detailed plan is developed to ultimately replace it.

“I don’t think that’s ever happened in Sherman but they did it,” Lowe said of the reversal from the board and town meeting’s decision.

In a letter to Lowe on Oct. 21, the board said it’s estimated that a temporary repair is likely to have a minimum lifespan of about 24 to 36 months and that it would allow “a more complex future replacement to take place when school was not in session.”

The Oct. 21 letter asked Lowe to submit a funding request for repair of the roof, not to exceed $150,000.

In Lowe’s newsletter, he said he “vehemently disagrees with the BOE’s move.”

In a follow-up newsletter, Lowe said all projects have some degree of contingency in their funding approval. For example, the roof bid was at $548,000, but the town approved spending $575,000, giving the project a 5 percent contingency.

“If while performing the project’s tasks, we were to uncover something unexpected that cost beyond the contingency, then we’d secure funding,” Lowe said.

He added the possibility of extra expenses due to “unforeseen circumstances” are considered when the town enters into all construction projects.

He said, however, “that has never stopped a project from getting done.”

Lowe also told Hearst Connecticut Media additional concerns he had with a temporary fix.

“There’s a lot of problems that leaking roofs cause,” he said. “It’s not good for the health of the building. It’s not good for the health of the inhabitants of the building as well — the students and the teachers and the administration.”

The BOE’s authority

School boards have exclusive power over their school buildings. It would be illegal for the Board of Selectmen to override the education board’s decision on the roof due to the CT Gen Statute Section 10-220, which says each local or regional board of education must provide an appropriate learning environment for its students, which includes proper maintenance of facilities. The statute states the education board is in charge of the schools in its respective school district, including the care, maintenance and operation of the buildings.

The Board of Selectmen is scheduled to discuss the temporary request for $150,000 to patch the roof at its Thursday in-person meeting at Mallory Town Hall, where they may decide to send it to town meeting for voter review and potential funding approval.

Berlandi said a completion date on the roof won’t be set until a contract is executed and material availability is fully confirmed, “which only can occur once voters have approved project funds.”