Conducting a rare Thursday morning meeting, the Calvert County commissioners met Nov. 12, with their top agenda item a discussion about the public schools’ proposed capital improvements plan for the next six years.
According to a memo from capital projects analyst Veronica Atkinson, the Calvert board of education submitted a total of $102 million in capital requests for the county’s fiscal 2022-2027 plan. With participation from the state, the county’s portion of the funding would total $57.2 million, with most of that ($41.8 million) from the sale of general obligation bonds.
Atkinson noted the entire fiscal 2022 CIP, totaling $89.44 million, currently pushes the county’s debt over the $5.9 million threshold.
The emphasis on the Nov. 12 session was on the school system’s fiscal 2022 maintenance and construction projects, particularly the three planned maintenance projects.
Shuchita Warner, the school system’s construction director, gave the board an overview of those projects, which involve heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems at three schools — Calvert Elementary, Plum Point Middle and Southern Middle.
The Calvert Elementary project replaces air handling units and cold water supply piping and roofing with a cost to the county of $1.4 million.
The Plum Point Middle project call replacements of rooftop and air handling units and related components at an estimated cost to the county of $2.1 million.
It was discussion of the Southern Middle project that raised the concern of Commissioner Vice President Mike Hart (R), a former student at the Lusby area school.
That project involves replacing the school’s current chilled/heating water plant, rooftop and air handling units and internal equipment at an estimated cost to the county of over $3.37 million. Hart figured with the additional funds required by the state the total price tag for the Southern Middle project was about $7 million.
“Seven million, is just to me, I just need help with this,” Hart exclaimed.
“This isn’t small stuff,” Warner explained, adding that the project would take two summers to complete. “It’s a lot of work within the school.”
Furthermore, the state requires all public schools to adhere to a code which mandates not just heating and air conditioning for all schools, but dehumidification and energy efficiency.
“There are very specific ventilation requirements for educational facilities,” Warner said. “We have to design it to code” in order to receive state funding.
“Air quality in an elementary school is as important as it is in an emergency room,” said Commissioner Tim Hutchins (R), who asked Warner if school staff could provide the commissioners with the system’s maintenance management plan.
Atkinson pointed out at the start of the session that a majority of Calvert’s schools have HVAC systems that are 30 to 40 years old and “well beyond the manufacturers’ life expectancy.”
“This number could be a lot higher in a couple of years,” said Hart.
Warner admitted that looking at the HVAC projects’ costs does yield “sticker shock,” but assured Hart and the other commissioners that Calvert public school administrators try to “stagger” the system replacements.
Commissioner Earl “Buddy” Hance (R) pointed out that Calvert built many public schools during the 1980s and 1990s when the county experienced a population boom, so more maintenance projects are looming.
Warner did point out that the school system does have four schools with geothermal energy systems. She added that the HVAC projects will all be bid out.
Commissioner President Kelly McConkey (R) suggested a demonstration on a modern HVAC system’s energy efficiency might be a good idea.
Commissioner Steven R. Weems (R) opined that since the high cost of modern HVAC systems has been an issue of concern in prior capital improvement plans, a work session on the topic might be in order.
Hutchins suggested that school officials work with the county public works department to study the feasibility to hooking Calvert Elementary to the Prince Frederick Town Center water and sewer system.
School construction projects in Calvert’s CIP pipeline include the replacement of Beach Elementary ($29.6 million with a targeted completion of fiscal 2023) and the renovation of Northern Middle ($47.9 million with a targeted completion of fiscal 2027).
Upcoming CIP reviews include discussions about county public safety, facilities, recreation, town center and transportation projects. The board will also review the county’s debt affordability model early next year.