The Hamilton-Wenham Capital Management Committee told the towns' Boards of Selectmen and the regional school committee they could save hundreds of thousands of dollars on building maintenance if they formed one virtual department of public works and did most of the maintenance in house.
The Hamilton-Wenham Regional School Committee members and school Superintendent Peter Gray were skeptical about the proposed savings and opposed giving up control of building maintenance.
Wenham Town Administrator Jeff Chelgren said it would take both the towns and the schools to create a critical mass large enough to make the concept of a joint department of public works feasible.
After 15 months of study, the 16-member CMC proposed that the towns and the schools join together to create a department of public works that maintains the town and school buildings.
The committee identified 340 projects in the buildings owned by the two towns and the schools that needed to be completed. The projects would cost an estimated $3 million.
The presentation was made during a meeting held at the .
For these projects, “Significant savings can be realized by using direct labor (employees) rather than sub-contracted labor,” the committee's report said. “There are direct savings associated with the hourly labor rates, and there are indirect cost reductions attributable to avoidance of costly procurement regulations and prevailing wage.”
The committee noted that much of the data on past maintenance projects was not available, but in five projects that included exterior painting of the , refurbishing the windows in the and painting the wood trim at the high school, the committee estimated that it would cost $100,000 less to use employees to do the work, rather than sub-contractors.
Hamilyton resident Rick Mitchell, who presented the report and recommendations, said, “This is not rocket science. This is what the free market does.”
He noted that the the towns and schools manage a total budget of more than $30 million.
“We are not maximizing our assets and resources,” Mitchell said.
Data is Questioned
Roger Kuebel, a former chairman of the Wenham Finance Committee and newly elected member of the school committee, questioned how the committee reached its conclusions.
“It is like someone wrote the report, and someone else wrote the recommendations,” he said.
Gray and School Committee member Jack O'Keefe questioned how the virtual public works department would function.
“If I have a faucet leak and I call this virtual department of public works and the only plumber is occupied elsewhere, I want the right to call another plumber,” Gray said.
Wenham Board of Selectmen Chairman Molly Martins said the head of the new joint department would call an outside plumber to fix the leak. The new joint department was compared to a property management company.
The towns and the schools have been experimenting with joint operations with ground maintenance since April. Gray conceded that so far it looks like the grounds program is working.
“The towns gave a good price,” he said. “I am always looking for ways to save money.”
Gray suggested that the towns were moving too fast in trying to approve the joint public works department.
The proposed schedule calls for the towns to act on the joint operations on July 12 and begin negotiating with the school administration and committee in August in hopes of reaching an agreement in September and present the concept to the Town Meetings in October.
Gray said that schedule was impossible.
“My calendar is already booked through September,” he said.
Kuebel wanted the committee, and specifically the survey committee chairman Bill Dery, to provide more detailed project costs and potential savings.
“I am not opposed to this,” Kuebel said, but he wanted more time to study the proposal and get additional information on how the new joint department would work.
About half of the proposed maintenance projects were in the schools, which led several officials to speculate that what was behind this proposal, as Martins said: “The towns want the schools to stop letting their buildings run down.”