By: Bill O’Connell
THE VILLAGE REPORTER
On Wednesday, 3/16/16, at 7:00 PM, Steve Brehmer, Swanton School Board President called to order the meeting of the Swanton School Board. All members were present including Chris Nijakowski, Dave Smith, Kris Oberheim, Shannon Crow, Jeff Schlade(Superintendent) and Joyce Kinsman.
In anticipation of heavier than normal attendance the meeting was held in the auditorium of the Swanton Middle School instead of the board’s office location. The change of venue proved to be warranted as the auditorium seats quickly filled with local residents, students, faculty members, school administrators and employees.
Most were there to hear the discussion regarding the key issue on the evening’s agenda; the proposed closing of the middle school and the redistribution and reconfiguration of those being impacted as well as the cost associated with the move.
The reconfiguration would involve the seventh and eighth graders relocating to the high school and the sixth graders moving to Crestwood Elementary which currently houses kindergarten through third grade. The reason given for the proposal was, along with the age of the facility, the current condition and continuing deterioration of the school’s boiler system.
Per procedure, members of the audience were given an opportunity to address the board and Josh Eppert, faculty member and president of the Swanton Education Association(SEA), took advantage of that opportunity and spoke on behalf of the Swanton teaching staff. His main concern was, despite reassurances from Superintendent Schlade, the Board may have different concerns and priorities and decide to reduce teaching staff if the proposal is accepted. “I hope that you’re as committed as Superintendent Schlade is to keeping current staff levels intact,” said Eppert directly addressing the board members.
Mr. Eppert also expressed the importance of teachers on the school system and asked they be included in helping to facilitate the transition. He ended by asking the board several related questions including how the reconfiguration would affect the pursuit of a new K-6 building on the high school campus.
After Mr. Eppert was done Mr. Schlade stepped behind the podium and outlined the reconfiguration plan, which could begin as early as the end of the 2015-2016 school year. He emphasized the boiler and heating situation to help justify the urgency of responding in a relatively quick manner.
With photographs of the two boilers displayed on the screen behind him, Mr. Schlade related the recent incident that led to the shutting down of the #2 boiler and the repair costs, approximately $4700, to bring it back on line to have it retested for compliance. He also talked about the age of the boilers. “They both were installed in 1964 it was determined and they are date stamped 1963,” explained Schlade. “So that puts them over fifty years old as is the rest of the system.”
A piece of piping that had been recently removed from boiler #2 was placed on stage for the audience to judge for themselves the extent of the corrosion and deterioration the system was dealing with.
William Oswald, an energy management and systems integrity consultant with the Direct Digital Corporation explained the condition of the piping. “It(boiler room) is kind of a hostile environment due to the excessive water leaks in the structure of the wall down there,” said Oswald. “Water is seeping in from above ground areas and that results in excessive corrosion on the metal parts of the equipment. It’s not the most friendly boiler room.”
Ms. Oberheim asked Mr. Oswald if it made sense to spend money to assess the boilers for possible replacement. “Well, they’re fifty plus years old already. They have paid their dues,” he replied. “To answer the question of the feasibility of replacing the boilers, they’re due to be replaced.” He also reminded the board that the rest of the heating system was at least as old.
It was also pointed out, however, even after emptying the middle school, the facility would still require some heat until a final disposition was determined and therefore, a functioning boiler system.
Board member Smith expressed several concerns with the move, including would there enough existing space to accommodate all the displaced students, how much education time would be lost in adjusting to the move and how much more time would be lost if the bond levy passes in November and another move would be required.
Other board members expressed similar concerns with the disruption in the educational process being the most worrisome. “My first concern is the time frame we’re looking to do this in. I spent 30 years in education and I have an idea of what is involved in moving basically every classroom in the district,” said board President Brehmer. “I’m sure it can happen but I’m not sure it can happen as seamlessly, as efficiently as we would like it to happen in an April to August time frame.”
Mr. Brehmer went on to say that he would like to propose another bond levy to the community in November and then determine a course of action based on its outcome.
He added that he would prefer to spend limited funds to certify both middle school boilers and delay the reconfiguration plan, if required, until the 2017-2018 school year.
A motion was put forth to table discussion on the reconfiguration plan until the November 2016 board meeting which will be convened after the November elections and after the result on the bond levy is known. It was seconded and it passed unanimously.
Several more minor items were discussed and the board voted to hold an executive session. The meeting was adjourned at 8:30 PM.
Bill O’Connell may be reached at