High School ‘Showing Its Age’

by | Jan 18, 2024

Above: During a tour of the high school last spring, student paused at a section of the building beset with persistent ceiling leaks.

Facilities director fields questions about maintenance issues at EGHS PTG meeting.

After several recent maintenance issues at the school – which include ongoing leaks from water built up between a section of the roof and the roof membrane, a broken pipe, and electrical issues, causing the school to be shut for a few days in the fall – EGSD’s Director of Facilities Bob Wilmarth answered maintenance-related questions at the EGHS PTG meeting Wednesday night. 

During the Q&A session in the library at the high school, Principal Patricia Page noted, “The building is showing its age. It’s 57 years old.”

That issue has dogged school officials of late because the $150 million bond approved by voters last November allots $30 million for the high school, a number some in town think should be much higher.

One of the most common questions asked was for a prioritized list of maintenance-related projects at the high school.

“It’s not going to be a short list,” said Wilmarth. He told attendees that “making a list is tricky” because officials will want it to be “all-encompassing.” A list like that would need “to have a lot of documentation” in order to be valid, he said.

At multiple points during the meeting, he pointed to the most recent Facilities Condition Assessment from 2020 as the list he is working off regarding ongoing projects within the entire district. 

However, community member Michael Norris said, “So that list is out of date by a few years now.” He then requested a “very digestible” list of projects Wilmarth is “fixing now and [those that will] have to wait for other sources.”

Regarding one of the most pressing issues at the high school, Wilmarth said he recently got approval to fix the section of the ceiling that is leaking from water buildup between the roof and the roof membrane, which will cost “a little over $100,000.” When asked, Wilmarth said he was unsure where the money was coming from to fix the leak.

Supt. Brian Ricca stated in an email, “I am working with the Town Manager to determine the exact funding structure. It is not a part of the emergency approval from RIDE.”

As previously reported, the state Department of Education (RIDE) recently said it would reimburse 35 percent of $500,000 the school department is planning to use from a $5 million bond approved by the voters in 2019. 

Wilmarth said the fix to a section between the roof and roof membrane is “weather dependent” and will occur “as soon as possible” (i.e. when the temperature is higher).

Town Councilor Caryn Corenthal asked why a fix that cost $100,000 took so long to find funding. “A hundred thousand dollars in your budget is, frankly, not a lot of money,” she said.

Wilmarth explained that much of the money allotted to maintenance is tied up in the day-to-day running of the schools, noting he is only allocated $25,000 for “building improvements.” He later explained that he could use some capital improvement money from other parts of the budget, but something that costs $100,000 cannot come from the operating budget alone. 

Resident Norris asked for an update regarding the repairs to the heating pipe, to which Wilmarth said the floor is patched and “we’re just making final arrangements.” He said they have “a little bit of cleaning up to do,” but that area of the high school would be available again to students by Friday or Monday.

When asked about reports of rodents in the school (specifically mice), Wilmarth said that EGPS has a contract with the Big Blue Bug. The pest control company performs biweekly inspections of all the schools. He said they monitor the activity at various stations because EGHS is “in the woods.”

Some in attendance called for various proactive measures in the summer to avoid future maintenance issues, such as pressure-testing pipes. 

“Prior to Thanksgiving, our track record [at the HS] was pretty good,” Wilmarth said.“I don’t think we missed any days of school [at the HS] in 20 years, other than for days of snow or something like that.” He said that he “thinks it’s a little unfair” to speculate that more significant maintenance issues, which he referred to earlier in the meeting as “an avalanche,” are inevitable.

The next School Committee meeting will be on Tuesday, Jan. 23, at 6 p.m. in the Cole Middle School Library.

Andrew Belfry is a freelance reporter covering EG schools and police. He lives in town with his wife and two kids. Send him comments and tips at [email protected].

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January 19, 2024 9:07 am

“Showing its age” is a poor excuse. What it’s showing is deferred maintenance, or more accurately, unfunded deferred maintenance. This isn’t unique to EGHS, it’s what’s happening with infrastructure across the country (The MBTA needs $24.5B for deferred maintenance). It is often a battle just to get the capital funding necessary to build the asset in the first place, so long-term operations and maintenance almost always gets short shrift. Once you start to fall behind in scheduled routine maintenance and repairs, the condition of the asset declines much more quickly than if you had been investing in the proper maintenance all along. That’s what’s happened with EGHS. The building is 57 years old, not 157 years old. The investment that is going to be required to bring the building back to age appropriate condition is far greater than what it would have cost if the scheduled maintenance had been performed along the way. Not only is there no going back, but the costs required to get EGHS back in order continue to go up every day that they are not addressed.

January 19, 2024 9:21 am

It’s important to point out that when the facilities manager mentions he doesn’t know where the money is coming from, it’s because it’s not coming from funds he manages within his given budget. He needs to ask for additional funds that another official body has to approve.


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