Windham board members 'seeking transparency' following portable classroom decision
WINDHAM — Two Windham School Board members are challenging administrators’ delay in releasing project bid estimates in the wake of their fellow board members’ recent decision not to repair the modular classroom unit at Golden Brook Elementary School.
Earlier this month, board member Ken Eyring’s request for additional information, including copies of several construction contracts filed with the district earlier this spring, was denied by district administration.
Though board members eventually were given the bids, Eyring said they were provided two days after the majority of the board voted against repairing the modular classrooms - too late to be taken into account for any decision-making.
Eyring, who spoke out on the matter publicly during the May 5 meeting, is now attempting to have the information released to him as a private citizen, via the state's right-to-know law.
On Tuesday, Eyring said he’d filed his request with the superintendent’s office several weeks ago and was told that the district would be seeking legal counsel in the matter.
Fellow board member Dennis Senibaldi said he’s also been attempting to gather information.
“Board members were told multiple times that we’d get copies of the bids before the April meeting,” Eyring said. “But we didn’t.”
“Most of the information we were asking for was easily accessible,” Senibaldi said. “I think certain members of the board just wanted to be done with it.”
In late April, Business Administrator Adam Steel and Superintendent Winfred Feneberg answered five of the two board members’ 15 submitted questions in an email, but left the others blank.
Eyring said this week he’s still waiting for answers to many questions, including the list of names of all the people and companies that viewed the bids prior to April 15.
“As a member of the public, I’m troubled these questions were not answered,” he said.
Last month Steel revealed the district had consulted with two construction companies: Trident and Bonette, Page & Stone (BPS), regarding the portables’ demolition and pre-construction management.
Trident estimated it would cost about $832,182 to repair the existing structure, though the company noted that mold remediation wasn’t included in that estimate.
Officials from RFP Associates, a company that has been working with the district for the past decade, further recommended a thorough wall cleansing and repairs to the structure’s HVAC system.
During the April 15 meeting, Steel declined to release project bids to the public, noting that “it was in the district’s best interest.”
Later that night, Windham resident Thomas Murray, a local contractor who has served on the town’s zoning board, shared his thoughts with the board.
Murray said he was “appalled” by the proposed repair costs and urged school officials not to make any hasty decisions.
Murray said his company would charge $246,541 “to get the facility back up and running before the end of the school year,” adding that he felt the school district “was being misinformed.”
Several other contractors in the room, who said they took issue with the fact that others didn’t get equal floor time, interrupted Murray’s speech.
Resident Richard Amari said he, as a taxpayer, would like to know every bid that comes into this town.
“It’s our right,” he said, noting that all of the project bidders should have been in attendance.
After a lengthy discussion, several board members noted that time was of the essence and a plan was needed soon to address the displaced third-graders who have been relocated to the high school since the portable structure was condemned last winter.
Board member Rob Breton said he took issue with spending money on an ailing building, adding that the presence of mold posed the risk of potential health issues.
To date, the district has spent $56,000 on partial demolition and diagnostic site work.
Board member Jerome Rekart said he wanted to “move on,” adding that he felt the board shouldn’t repair the existing facility and instead explore other options with the district’s facilities committee.
The board ultimately voted 3-2 to cease considering repairs to the modular building, with Senibaldi and Eyring opposed.
“My position as a resident, a taxpayer and a school board member is that we need more information,” Eyring said this week. “And the fact is, we didn’t have all the information we needed when it was time to vote. We never went through the whole process.”
Senibaldi, who owns a local construction company, noted that his professional opinion contradicts the board majority’s decision.
“Not only I think the portables could be repaired, I know they could,” he said Tuesday.
“The bottom line is, our schools belong to the community. We can’t lose track of that,” Eyring added. “There needs to be transparency in the process.”