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Investment paramount in maintaining city's school buildings

Date: 9/19/2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD — Patrick Sullivan, executive director of the Department of Parks, Buildings and Recreation Management, received praise from the School Committee at its Sept. 13 meeting after he gave a report on the status of the city's school buildings.

School Superintendent Daniel Warwick noted that the average age for the city's school buildings is 55 years.

Sullivan's overview covered the past five years. He noted there has been more than $80 million committed to repair, rehabilitation and improvements of the city's schools, a figure that does not count the cost of the new Putnam Vocational and Technical School High School or the current renovation of the Forest Park Middle School.

That figure does include projects such as replacement of doors and windows at some schools, new roofs or roof repairs at 17 school facilities and repairs to the school pools.

Sullivan said the city has replaced 32 oil-fired boilers in the schools and all but four of the buildings are heated by natural gas, which has created both energy efficiencies and savings for the district. By the end of the year that number will be reduced by two.

He added his department has recently negotiated a new electric rate, which should result in savings of more than $2.9 million annually and natural gas rates that will save the city more than $860,000 annually.

Sullivan has been seeking grant money to fund some of the changes his department has made at the school buildings. He said in fiscal years 2010 to 2012, the city received a federal grant of $1.49 million to install high efficiency boilers, and energy management systems in several schools and other city buildings. A state grant of $988,102 provided additional funding for boilers and energy management systems as well as vending miser installations, which turn off vending machines when the school is not in session.

The district also received a federal Climate Showcase Community Grant of $491,067 to help improve air quality in the schools.

In the report, Sullivan also noted the many projects undertaken and completed in 10 school buildings this summer. The projects ranged from asbestos abatement to installation of new flooring, painting, and parking lot upgrades, among others.

The city's schools have also instituted a recycling program and Sullivan said that last year 353 tons of paper was recycled, which saved the city a total of $43,378. He added that an additional 37 tons of electronics, such as old computers and television monitors, were also recycled as well as 5,011 pounds of fluorescent lights and other items containing mercury.

To better insure the health of the city's children, Sullivan said there have been several initiatives begun including a green housekeeping program that replaces cleaning equipment and products with effective green techniques and products.

The green housekeeping effort is part of a strategy to reduce the asthma triggers in the city schools, he added. By reducing the amount of dust by using microfiber mops, vacuuming instead of sweeping and HEPA filtration in heating systems.

Springfield has a higher asthma rate than the state average — 21 percent as opposed to 11 percent — and Sullivan noted that according to data submitted by the district's Nurse Department, there has been some reduction in asthma in some of the schools. The greatest reductions have been in elementary schools.

Sullivan said that among future projects would be additional boiler, window and roof replacements and renovation projects at Kennedy and Duggan middle schools.