The Shorewood School Board voted not to fund replacement of boiler systems at two district schools just two months ago. Problems with the boilers were known, but after taking a tour of the systems, Shorewood School Board President Rob Reinhoffer said he was convinced the project needed to move forward now.
Tuesday night, the board voted unanimously to put $3 million toward replacing two steam boiler systems at Atwater Elementary and three boilers at Shorewood High School. The money will be borrowed.
The boiler systems have significant water leaks and have far surpassed their life span, officials say.
“I’m convinced after going on a tour...,” Reinhoffer said. “Not doing it is unconscionable; not doing it is irresponsible right now.”
Officials decided to move forward with the work despite some residents saying it is unprecedented to borrow this amount of money without allowing taxpayers to vote on it through a referendum.
Total energy work about $5 million
In October, the School Board decided to scale back $5.9 million in energy efficiency projects to $2.1 million, as part of a performance contract with international company ESG Honeywell. The work is now limited to projects that will pay for themselves in energy savings over a 15-year period.
But with the action Tuesday, the board will now borrow more than $5 million for the work.
The district has held information meetings and board members have fielded emails from residents to gauge whether the community supported funding the boiler projects.
Board member David Cobb said after hearing from residents, he’s feels the community supports funding the boiler work.
Conversely, Shorewood resident Rick Cudahy said he strongly disagrees with not holding a referendum and finds it troubling, as it appears to be setting a precedent.
“The key point is, the only way you can know whether the community supports this or not, is to have them vote on it,” he said. “With big money like that in a community this size, the only way is to do a referendum.”
Replacing the boilers sooner rather than later will save the district money, the board said. The district plans to borrow once, in January, which Business Manager Mark Boehlke said will save money. The alternative was to borrow once for each project.
Additionally, the sooner the boilers are replaced, the sooner the district can realize energy savings. If the district decided to place a referendum on the April ballot, it would likely not be ready to replace the boilers during the summer, when students are out of school.
Resident Linea Sundstrom said she believes even if the matter were to go to referendum, it would pass.
“There isn’t going to be much controversy about whether we are going to keep heat at Atwater Elementary School,” she said. “So, I think the reality is, yes, we could go through the expense of the referendum process … but we are not going to vote this down. I just don’t see that happening.”
Honeywell is expected to start the design work for the boilers next week.