Trustees shoot down idea of double checking numbers
by Gord Bowes, News staff
The cost of repairs of Sherwood high school is nowhere close to what staff estimates suggest, says a citizen who wants trustees to hold off on any closure decisions until they get updated figures.
Trustees, however, on Monday night decided against getting an updated report from an engineer, saying they trusted staff’s numbers to be more or less correct.
For under $1.2 million, Sherwood could be fixed up and ready to soldier on, says Eamon O’Donnell, a tradesman with 25 years experience who analyzed the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board’s data on required repairs.
The board’s numbers show Sherwood needs about $30 million worth of work to keep it going over the next eight years.
O’Donnell said the number is “grossly overestimated,” partly because some work is listed twice, is not required at this time, or contains items that do not exist.
“If we spent $800,000 to $1.2 million right now, future expenses would be quite manageable,” said O’Donnell, a licenced air conditioning technician, sheet metal worker and gas technician who has worked on industrial and institutional projects.
Sherwood’s poor condition and cost of maintenance and repair, has been cited by staff as one of the main reasons it recommends closure of the school.
O’Donnell pointed to the $5-million in repairs undertaken at Westmount in the past two years to show how a relatively small investment can bring a school back to life.
Prior to the repairs, Sherwood and Westmount were in about the same state of disrepair, according to data from the board’s ReCAPP (Renewal Capital Asset Planning Process) software.
The Ministry of Education describes ReCAPP as facilities management software “designed to help boards identify renewal needs for the capital planning cycle. It also allows consistent reporting across the province with respect to school condition.”
Ken Bain, the board’s associate director of education, said staff incorporate numerous factors into the cost estimate that O’Donnell may not have taken into account.
He cited such factors as cost of industrial-grade replacement materials and components, the complexity and size of Sherwood’s mechanical and HVAC systems, safety measures while working around asbestos, architectural engineering fees, markup, permits, insurance and increased cost to fit into a July-August time frame.
“These are factors that we’ve included in our estimates,” said Bain. “I can’t attest to the extent to which (O’Donnell) has considered these, although our staff say these may not have been fully costed in his analysis.”
Bain noted the ReCAPP software also produces duplicate lines for repairs because it is for different areas of a building. For example, he said, the library was upgraded in 1984 and is on a different cycle than the original 1966 building.
Still, said O’Donnell, there are examples of work that doesn’t need to be done. One example, he said, is the replacement of “cabling, raceways and bus ducts,” all part of the electrical distribution system, at a cost of $3.1 million.
“We don’t rip out and replace electrical bus ducts because they are 40 years old,” said O’Donnell. If there are problems, they should be inspected, he said, but outright replacement generally isn’t necessary. He also noted air handling units usually don’t need to be replaced as they can be serviced at much lower cost.
O’Donnell, who graduated from Sherwood in 1984 and now lives near the school, said the east Mountain school is in “great shape” though it might look rough on the outside because of a bad decision to put stucco around the ground floor where it can be picked apart. He said he scolded the first kid he saw taking a stick to smash the stucco open.
“It looks terrible now. But that can be fixed,” he said. “It’s cosmetics, not structural.”
O’Donnell said the high school closure review, which is coming to an end after more than 14 months, should be restarted with proper numbers for the committee and trustees to mull over.
“They’re making decisions based on flawed data,” he said.
Trustees didn’t see it that way. While east Mountain trustee Laura Peddle put forward a motion to have an engineer inspect all schools recommended by staff to be shuttered, she later withdrew it when it became clear there wasn’t enough support from her peers.
Peddle said with questions in the community about the authenticity of the numbers, the engineer’s reports might help restore the public’s confidence in the board.
Trustees are expected to make their decision on Mountain high school closures on May 23 and ratify that decision on May 28. O’Donnell’s analysis is available on the board’s website as part of the April 23 agenda package.