With track project under budget, Frontier School Committee plans use of extra money

  • The cost to construct a new track at Frontier Regional School, pictured, came in at a lower bid than expected. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Monday, May 24, 2021

SOUTH DEERFIELD — With the cost of a track construction project coming in at a lower bid than expected, the Frontier Regional School District School Committee approved a series of proposals on Tuesday concerning how to spend the excess money budgeted for the work, including the purchase of new track equipment and a nine- or 14-passenger van.

“Earlier this year, we talked about using $200,000 of (excess and deficiency funds) to offset the cost of the track,” Superintendent Darius Modestow explained. “The track numbers were projected to be coming in at possibly up to $800,000 and change, but the track came in at $638,750. We now have a problem — kind of a good problem — which is we put money aside to use E and D.”

In March, the committee voted to accept a bid from Mountain View Landscapes and Lawncare of Chicopee for the construction of a new track. Work will include track demolition, excavation, erosion control, gravel, pavement, all-weather track surfacing, track equipment, concrete, drainage, topsoil and seeding, among other work. The company’s bid of $638,750 came in about $200,000 lower than the most recent estimate for the project.

The proposed uses for the extra money include $25,000 to buy pole vault and high jump landing equipment.

“The pole vault and the high jump landing equipment is as old as the track,” Modestow said. “It’s ripping in areas. I think it’s an appropriate time, when you update the track … to update (the equipment) as well.”

Modestow also proposed the purchase of a van, estimated at $50,000, to replace the school’s seven-passenger van, which is largely used for transporting special education students to job sites.

“I would like to update this van to a larger model,” he said, noting the current vehicle is a 2007 Chrysler Town & Country. “It’s going to be able to translate for more activities for our school.”

Another request proposed rescinding capital requests to school district totaling $35,000.

Modestow explained that with capital fixes to the buildings, the district has a “three-pronged approach” to financing, which includes bonds, excess and deficiency funds, and going to the towns for direct capital requests (which are approved by Town Meeting voters).

“Given this year that we have this extra money, and some of the towns are struggling to make the requests we’re making this year … I think it makes sense to say let’s withdraw the capital requests to the towns, and we’ll pay for it ourselves this year,” he said. “This is information we didn’t have this year when we put that request out to the towns.”

School Committee member Phil Kantor asked committee members to consider the possibility of keeping the capital requests, but instead using it to start a capital stabilization fund for Frontier.

“I would like to see us start doing things for the capital stabilization fund,” he said. “It’s worked out so well in Conway having one for the elementary school.”

Other School Committee members, although they agreed with the concept in general, felt it was more appropriate at this time to withdraw the request as proposed.

“The towns were extremely forthcoming with their portion of the money to help us pay for COVID-related costs,” said School Committee member Bill Smith. “I think the optics and the gesture for us withdrawing that capital article and paying for it ourselves is worth far more to us than the $35,000 is.”

School Committee member Judy Pierce agreed, adding that the idea for a stabilization fund has been “bounced around” in various subcommittees.

“It’s a solid plan that reaps some really positive results,” she said. “But I’m inclined for us to move forward with the proposal as presented.”

Ultimately, the committee supported a motion to approve the list of proposals as is — which totaled $158,730, including two items related to contracts with Berkshire Design Group and Mountain View Landscapes — with the note that school administrators and the School Committee would discuss and review a plan at a later date for opening a stabilization fund.