Burrillville council approves $6.4 million bond to finance school repairs

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BURRILLVILLE – Members of the Town Council voted unanimously to approve a bond of up to $6.4 million to finance repairs to school facilities, including a costly but urgent boiler replacement for Steere Farm Elementary School.

“It needs to be done sooner rather than later,” explained Finance Director Leslie McGovern at a meeting with the council on Wednesday, Feb. 28.

To finance the project, McGovern told councilors they could wait until November to seek voter approval, or approve it under their own authority under state law. Rhode Island General Law and the Town Charter allow the council to borrow up to 3 percent of the total assessed value of the tax base without putting the issue on a ballot.

“You can put it to the voters, but you’ll be waiting for that vote to take place in November,” McGovern said.

McGovern noted that for the last bond for a school construction projects in Burrillville, a $7 million referendum was approved by voters in 2020. But if the council were to wait this time, funds would not be available until March of 2025 and interest rates, which are now low, would be subject to change, she said.

Creating more urgency for the approval is a failing 30-year old boiler at the elementary school, which Town Manager Michael Wood noted the district hopes to replace before the start of the next school year. Wood said that the boiler project is now out to bid, with an expected price tag of around $650,000.

“It’s not a cheap project,” he said.

Still, he noted, the town may not need to take out the full $6.4 million.

“My thinking on this right now is to approve the larger bond,” he told councilors. “Once those numbers come in, we can come back to you and you’ll decide whether you want to fund that particular project out of some other resource or use the bond money to pay for it.”

Other potential sources to finance the work include remaining American Rescue Plan Act and capital funds, he said.

“I think we need to see the number before we decide where the money comes from to pay for it,” Wood said. “We’ll come back to you seperately with whether or not you want to fund it outside of the bond.”

“We don’t necessarily need to borrow up to $6.4,” million, agreed Council President Donald Fox.

Other items included in the list for roughly $6.4 million presented by Supt. Michael Sollitto are window replacement at Levy and Callahan Elementary Schools, partial roof replacement at Callahan, gym floor replacements at the middle school and Steere Farm, and HVAC system upgrades for the gyms at the high school and Callahan.

“We may have to eliminate a couple of items based on price,” said Councilor Raymond Trinque.

“It was not a lengthy list,” said Councilor Dennis Anderson. “It was a manageable list, just like it was five years ago.”

The projects, Anderson noted, are also eligible for 50 percent reimbursement through the Rhode Island Department of Education. The Council on Elementary and Secondary Education approved the new school construction projects for reimbursement in December.

The town will require the General Assembly to enact legislation to authorize the bonds, which has already been drafted for presentation.

“They are all needed projects over the time frame we’re talking about, and we are doing this stuff at 50 cents on the dollar,” Anderson said. “I think we should be supporting the $6.4 million. I’m 100 percent behind not having to go to the ballot and delay this whole thing.”

Councilors approved the issuance of bonds not to exceed $6.4 million, with further discussion of specific elements expected after bids come in.

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