Council supports application for high school access road

By Barbara Tetreault

BERLIN — The city council gave its support to a grant application for a $2 million project to build an access road around the backside of Berlin High School and other safety improvements. But Mayor Paul Grenier warned the city may not be able to afford to cover the required 40 percent of the cost if the application is approved.

Superintendent of Schools Corinne Cascadden agreed that the city cannot afford the 40 percent match the grant requires. She said for that reason the administration has broken the project into three phases in the application, giving it the flexibility to do part of the project.

If the grant is approved, Cascadden said the city could also look for other funding sources to help with the city’s match.

Meeting with the council last week, Cascadden said the state has surplus funds that are available for life-safety infrastructure needs. The funds are being made available to school districts to correct deficiencies that present a substantial risk to the life and safety or staff, students and public visitors.

Cascadden said the access road has long been identified as a need. Berlin Fire and Police officials have pointed out there is no vehicular access to the north or west sides of the school building. Building an access road at the end of Jasper Street around the back of the building would allow emergency vehicles access to the entire building. The project would also upgrade the front main entrance to meet security standards and construct a new secure rear secondary entrance.

The estimated cost of the project is $2,001,000. Cascadden said if the grant is approved, the state will pay 60 percent of the cost, using the same model as it does with school building aid. The city would bond the project and the state would pay 60 percent of the yearly principal payment.

Cascadden said the school district selected HEB Engineers as the engineering firm for the project and plans to spend about $13,000 to get survey and wetland delineation work done now while there is still time. She said if that work doesn’t get done now, the project may not be able to meet grant deadlines. Furthermore, Cascadden said the survey and delineation work will be valuable for future applications if this one proves to be unsuccessful.

Councilor Michael Rozek said he liked the idea of having an access road. Grenier said he also likes the project but wanted to make sure everyone is clear on the proposal. He noted the state pays only principal cost on any bond, leaving the city to cover all the interest cost.

He noted that if the school department went forward on a $1.2 million phase, the city’s share would be about $670,000. He said generally the council has budgeted $50,000 to $100,000 annually for school capital projects. He said a 10-year bond would use up the bulk of that annual appropriation.

Grenier also warned the school district could run into issues because Mount Jasper is well documented as a Native American archaeological site. He predicted the state will require a historic assessment.

The council took a straw vote in support of moving ahead with the application.

Cascadden reported the school district’s application for a $99,000 security grant to allow it to purchase several security cameras and upgrade software. The grant required a 20 percent match but Cascadden said the district has a second grant that can be used as the match.

Following a recommendation from the council Traffic Safety Committee, the council agreed to change the snow removal policy to plow an additional 70 feet of sidewalk on First Avenue.

Public Works Director Michael Perreault reported there were no major changes in the snow and ice control policy this year. He said some recommendations from last year were incorporated into the policy.

Perreault said from an operational viewpoint the redesigned Route 16 will be a challenge but said public works crews will figure it out as he noted they did with the upgrade of Route 110.

He said crews are about three weeks behind in putting up and filling sand barrels because the department has been dealing with damage from the recent storm. There are 151 designated sand barrels placed throughout the city that residents can use — residents can also pick up sand at the public works garage for residential use only. Residents can purchase salt through public works by first going to the department office at city hall.

City Manager James Wheeler reported two fire department engines are out of service. Milan Fire Department has agreed to loan one of its engines to Berlin with the understanding Berlin would respond if there is an incident in Milan.