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Site Work At Stevens to Start Soon

Claremont — The chairman of the Stevens High School Renovation Committee said yesterday he is feeling more confident the school district can secure a loan to finance the installation of energy saving equipment at the district’s five schools.

“A week ago I was feeling frustrated but now it is looking more promising,” said Dave Putnam, who is also a member of the School Board.

Putnam said he and Steven Horton, the district’s representative on the $12.5 million Stevens renovation project, have met with other lending institutions and been quoted more attractive rates. Though he did not offer specifics, Putnam said they believe they will get “an interest rate we can live with.”

Bond market rates have more than doubled in recent weeks.

In March, voters approved a $7 million lease/purchase agreement to have Johnson Controls of Milwaukee make upgrades, including new windows, insulation and hyrbrid wood pellet/propane boilers in the schools. Johnson’s energy performance contract “guarantees” that the annual savings in the school district energy costs will be enough to cover the annual lease payments. The loan on the Johnson Controls project is around $5 million. Putnam said they will only put wood pellet boilers in the high school and middle school.

“They elementary schools would not produce enough savings with wood pellet boilers,” Putnam said, referring to an energy audit done in May by Johnson.

Putnam said attorneys are still ironing out the details of the contract with Johnson but he expects it to be signed shortly.

The school district needs a 20 year loan to realize the projected savings.

“If the term is shorter, we borrow less money and there are not as much savings,” Putnam said, adding that Johnson guarantees the annual savings for the life of the loan. He said the contract will include a “monitoring and verification” portion to oversee the annual savings guarantee.

At yesterday’s renovation committee meeting, Putnam said they opened four bids for the site work, with St. Pierre of Charlestown being the lowest. Horton will interview St. Pierre early next week and the committee could award the contract at its Wednesday meeting. If that happens, Putnam said construction fencing will be erected soon after and work will start.

Site work will include mostly expanding the parking area between the school and SAU building and redesigning the bus loop in the front of the school. New lighting will be added along with a new parking lot entrance. Putnam also said new soil will be brought in for under some of the new paved area to improve drainage.

Banwell Architects is finalizing the design for the interior work. Putnam said Ingrid Nichols of Banwell has been meeting with different departments to discuss their needs and expectations.

“They are collaborating on how the space is designed,” Putnam said.

He also said the design and bidding process is taking longer in order to achieve the best price and therefore work inside the building will begin later than expected. Though the 15-month construction period won’t change, the projected completion of the job will be closer to the end of 2014 calendar year instead of September. Also, to minimize disruption during the school year, Putnam said work will be done smaller sections of the building. In March, voters passed the bond to renovate the high school with one of the main goals to bring it up to the standards of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, which accredits high schools. Stevens was placed on probation last year by NEASC.

Renovated classrooms, a larger cafeteria, some new roofs and completely new plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems are among the upgrades. Putnam said preliminary work has begun inside the building with tests on wall strength.