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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Aldermen approve bonding up to $2 million for Charlotte Avenue HVAC improvements

NASHUA – City aldermen approved bonding up to $2 million to make HVAC improvements at Charlotte Avenue Elementary School on Tuesday, but not before some questioned whether borrowing money was the best way to finance the effort.

Board President Brian McCarthy has said the bond will go toward an approximately $3.5 million price tag for replacing Charlotte Avenue’s boilers, the mechanical components of the HVAC systems, some plumbing, and some building envelope work to make the school hold heat better.

Last month, aldermen also approved changing the purpose of $1.9 million in unexpended bond proceeds for various school improvements, including HVAC replacements at Fairgrounds Elementary and Ledge Street School, to be used for Charlotte Avenue’s HVAC work.

“Those came in under budget so we’re just finalizing the final costs so we know how much we have from there,” Dowd said on Wednesday.

In a 10-4 vote Tuesday, the resolution passed, with the following aldermen voting in favor: Aldermen-at-Large Lori Wilshire, Jim Donchess, Barbara Pressly and McCarthy; Aldermen Rick Dowd, Ward 2; Mary Ann Melizzi-Golja, Ward 8; Paul Chasse, Ward 6; June Caron, Ward 7; Diane Sheehan, Ward 3; and Kathy Vitale, Ward 1.

Voting against were Aldermen-at-Large David Deane and Mark Cookson and Aldermen Dan Moriarty, Ward 9, and Art Craffey, Ward 4.

Alderman Mike Tabacsko, Ward 5, was absent.

Prior to Tuesday’s vote, Moriarty questioned whether the improvements could be funded through other mechanisms.

Deane said the school capital reserve account, which currently maintains about $4.5 million, was a possibility.

At a March budget committee meeting that reviewed the resolution, however, McCarthy said the capital reserve fund is tagged for deferred maintenance items, and that current bond conditions and interest rates favored bonding the HVAC improvements.

“The capital reserve funding is a limited amount of money that we have, and there are things that come up that aren’t eligible for bonding that we would like to reserve those funds for,” Dowd said Wednesday.

“The bond rate is so low right now for this type of work, it’s more economically feasible from a financial planning standpoint to use the bonding,” he added.

McCarthy has said the bond requests were brought with some urgency because HVAC contractors anticipate some increases in equipment costs as construction season approaches.

The city could save by ordering the equipment as soon as possible, McCarthy said, and the hope was to minimize the disruptions at Charlotte Avenue by getting the HVAC work underway during April vacation, in order to get the improvements wrapped up by the middle of the school year next year.

Similar upgrades at Ledge Street and Fairgrounds elementary schools forced the school to hold some classes in makeshift classrooms in the gymnasium. Also, art and music classes had to be held in regular classrooms, instead of their own rooms.

At the next Joint School Building Construction Committee, members will go over contractor estimates for the HVAC work at Charlotte Avenue and get a better idea of what it will cost to bond, Dowd said.

“I don’t believe the number will come to $2 million at the end,” McCarthy said at the budget meeting March 26. “There is about $1.9 million left in the other bond. …We will have a final number before the bonds are let, and they will be let for whatever the correct amount is.”

A public hearing held about the $2 million bond saw no testimony from residents.