Shorewood School Board approves borrowing to replace failing boilers

Board advances plan in interest of retaining energy savings

Dec. 12, 2012

Shorewood - The School Board approved approximately $3 million in financing Tuesday night for the replacement of two steam boilers at Atwater Elementary and three boilers at Shorewood High School.

The district will add the cost of the boilers to a $2.1 million borrow approved for other projects in October. The first round of projects should pay for themselves through energy savings, as laid out in a performance contract with Honeywell International.

The school board voted not to fund the boiler work in October, saying that without a referendum more community input was needed to approve such a large borrow. After more consideration and a round of informational meetings with the public, the board was ready to move forward.

"After seeing (the condition of the boilers) I'm convinced more than ever we need to get it fixed right away," board President Rob Reinhoffer said.

District officials said bundling the two borrows into one will save money: The sooner the boilers are replaced, the sooner energy savings will begin. If the board were to wait until spring for a referendum they would likely miss out on the 2013 construction season. If the boilers were to fail, the cost of heating district buildings without them would be enormous.

"I'd rather not shut down for a week, asking 'where's the heat?'" Superintendent Martin Lexmond said at the Shorewood Men's Club last week, at one of the three "community conversations" the district held to inform the public about the project. "The need is there and the opportunity is there."

Several community members came out to the board meeting Tuesday to question the district's decision to borrow without a referendum, though it is allowed under a new state law.

District resident Rick Cudahy described the borrow as "troubling."

"That's unprecedented in the history of the village," he said. "The only way to know whether the community supports something is to have them vote on it."

Board member David Cobb told Cudahy that the board took similar advice to heart when it decided not to fund the work in October, but after soliciting feedback from the community at large, felt compelled to move forward. He pointed out that the state law enabling borrowing without a referendum was meant to help fund deferred maintenance projects, like the boilers. Many districts around the state are borrowing for similar projects.

"We're unprecedented in this community, but not in the state," said Cobb. "The context has changed."

Resident Linea Sundstrom told the board that regardless of whether they went to a referendum, the boiler project would be approved.

"We're not going to vote this down," said Sundstrom. "I just don't see that."

With the borrowing approved by the board, the district will issue bonds in January for all of the energy saving projects and begin work once the bond proceeds are in hand.

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