School District's Capital Improvement Plan to Go Before Voters

Aldo Mazzaferro, director of project development for ECG Engineering, explains the energy performance improvement projects to the Mahopac Board of Education as last week’s meeting. Credits: Bob Dumas

MAHOPAC, N.Y.— Mahopac School District residents will be asked to go to the polls next month and approve a referendum that calls for nearly $8 million in capital improvements, projects that officials say will not cost taxpayers a dime.

The proposed capital projects include two components. The first includes a series of energy performance improvements (known as an energy performance contract, or EPC) to several schools throughout the district, including the addition of solar energy. The second is a roof replacement project for three schools.

“There are no costs to the taxpayers; that’s a very important component,” said Garrett Hamlin, director of architecture for Tetra Tech Architects & Engineers, the district’s architectural firm. “Taxes will not go up as a result of this project due to the budget planning of this district.”

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The district has been working for about two years in preparation for these projects. Earlier this year, it contracted Ameresco, an energy service company, to perform energy audits on the district’s myriad buildings to uncover potential energy-saving opportunities.

“Ameresco’s proposal was based in reality and not as aggressive as other proposals we received,” said Aldo J. Mazzaferro III, director of project development for ECG Engineering, a Smithtown, N.Y.-based company hired by the district to implement the EPC. “It had the most thoughtful approach.”

Mazzaferro said the proposed EPC is actually Phase 2 of a project that began in 2010.

“That project was developed based on 2008 technology,” he said. “The advancement of new technology has promoted a Phase 2, [with things like] lighting opportunities. LED is much more efficient with longer lamp life. It’s a much more economical approach to lighting.”

The other technology that will be implemented is solar power.

“When we developed Phase 1 of the project, solar was three or four more times expensive than it is now,” Mazzaferro said. “Prices have dropped and rebate programs have become more attractive. The panels themselves have increased in efficiency.”

A complete overview of the energy performance improvements includes:

•             Lighting fixtures upgraded to LED technology (every space throughout the district)

•             Replacement of pneumatic temperature controls at Lakeview Elementary School (Mazzaferro said pneumatic controls tend to fail so they will upgrade to electronic controls, which are much more accurate.)

•             Replacement of exterior doors at Lakeview, Fulmar, and Mahopac Falls schools (to reduce the amount of cold air that infiltrates the buildings)

•             Installation of large-scale, roof-mounted, solar PV panels at Lakeview and Austin Road schools (These will be non-penetrating systems with no nails being driven into the roofs. They will be held down with bricks, which prolongs the life of the roofs.)

“Over the last nine months, Ameresco has been working in the buildings, auditing, refining their assumptions, molding the scope [of the project],” Mazzaferro said. “It’s a very fluid development process and the district is in full control of what goes in and out of the project.”

The energy improvements are projected to save more money than they will actually cost, Mazzaferro said, which is why it won’t impact the district’s budget. In fact, Ameresco has guaranteed the savings, which means if the systems don’t perform Ameresco has to reimburse the district.

The first year’s financials break down this way: The overall cost of the EPC is about $4.2 million. The first year’s guaranteed savings is $261,527, plus $108,137 in state aid. The district will make a debt payment of $337,361 and pay $8,078 for annual solar PV panel maintenance. It all results in a positive annual cash flow of $24,225, which translates to a $1.3 million positive cash flow over the 18-year term of the deal.

Mazzaferro said construction should begin sometime in 2017.

“Some can be done while school is still in session, such as lighting,” he said. “It will take a year to a year and a half. Then they will stick around to make sure that everything is functioning properly. They don’t just install it and then take off.”

With the prospect of installing solar panels on top of the schools, district officials knew that they would first have to address the issue of the deteriorating roofs.

“One of the things that stood out to my team is that the roofs in the districts are really in need of repair,” Hamlin said. “They are the top priority. Ameresco has a proposal for solar that was very cost-effective and made a lot of sense to pursue but decided to have the district do the roofing aspect ahead of the solar. You don’t want to have new solar panels on old roofs that need to be replaced.”

The district performed a study of roofs in 2014 and came up with a long-term replacement plan.

“Our own roofing expert confirmed the report,” Hamlin said. “They came to the same conclusions.”

Lakeview is the worst offender and its roof is in desperate need of replacement, Hamlin noted.

“But we identified three buildings in the district where the roofs are the highest priority: Austin Road Elementary; a portion of Mahopac High School and of course, Lakeview,” he said.

Hamlin said his firm did some preliminary hazardous-material assessments and test work on the roofs to help budget accordingly.

“We don’t want any surprises during construction, so we are confident that the budget we are placing in front of the voters is appropriate and accurate,”

The projected cost of the roofing project is $3.7 million. But as Ron Clamser, assistant superintendent for business and human resources, explains, that, too, will not necessitate any budget increases or tax hikes.

State aid will cover 42 percent of the project, which leaves about $1.55 million for the district. Last May, voters approved a measure allowing the district to create a capital reserve account that cannot exceed $2.5 million or last longer than five years. The district currently has about $1.37 million in that reserve account, money that came from unexpended reserves.

“This past winter we didn’t have much snow and we saved a lot of money on snowplowing and heating the buildings,” Clamser said. “At the end of the year, we are able to squirrel that money away and transfer it into the capital reserve fund.”

Clamser said the district is likely to add more to the reserve account and pay off the balance of the roof project.

“We can cover the local portion of the project at no cost to the taxpayers,” he said. “At the end of the day, there will be no tax increase to pay for this project.”

Clamser said the upgrades are the culmination of lots of work and lots of financial planning over the last two years.

“It won’t cost us money but will save us money in the future,” he said. “It takes a lot of brains, a lot of hands, a lot of thinking, to make a project of this scope and size. We wanted to be fiscally prudent; we wanted to do something that was efficient and effective. We wanted to do it right and at minimal cost to the taxpayer, if at any cost at all.”

He said district officials will present the project in meetings with a variety of community groups in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 15 vote. He said he’s hopeful the proposition will pass, but said such votes are always hard to predict.

“If it doesn’t pass, we would have to go back and retool the project, or go back and do a better job of educating the community,” he said. “We can’t do the solar without the roof project. This is a critical infrastructure project. We are talking about fixing roofs that are problematic. It’s not a luxury project. If the roofs are damaged, we will have damage inside the buildings. It’s at a critical stage. We are not looking at bells and whistles. We have been piecemealing it for years. We have done our due diligence.”

The vote will be held Tuesday, Nov. 15, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., at Mahopac High School, 421 Baldwin Place Road.

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