CONWAY — Jim Hill, director of administrative services for SAU 9, is hoping that two new maintenance items will be part of the 2020-21 operating budget.

First, he wants to add a maintenance person to the staff (the first such addition in more than 15 years).

He also has proposed replacing the 50-year-old maintenance storage building that sits next to the parking lot at Conway Elementary School in Conway Village.

The building has run its course, according to Hill, who said there simply isn’t enough space in it to shield valuable school resources from the weather.

He brought his requests to the Conway School Board’s Budget Committee on Nov. 12.

As for the additional staff person, Hill explained that currently there are four maintenance employees along with Conway Buildings and Grounds Coordinator Andy Grigel.

“The last time a maintenance person was added to the department was in 1997,” Hill said. “In 2005-07, when the new high school was built, and Pine Tree was only 16 years old, no additional maintenance staff was added to the department because everything was ‘new’ and ‘under warranty.’”

Now, Kennett High is 15 years old. Not only that, but Hill shared the following statistics about the district’s other schools:

• The original building of Kennett Middle School is 98 years old; the first addition dates back to 1938; the second addition to 1963; and the third to 1978. The last major renovation was in 2006.

• The original building of John H. Fuller Elementary is 67 years old (1954); the first addition was in 1978, and the latest addition was in 1990.

• Conway Elementary’s original building is 67 years old (1954); the first addition was in 1978, and the latest addition was in 1990.

• Pine Tree School is 31 years old.

“This department oversees the daily maintenance of 523,000 square feet of buildings,” Hill said. “This is the equivalent of 196 single-family homes occupied by over 2,000 students and staff.”

He noted that while Kennett High and Middle do have grounds personnel, the department maintains over 100 acres of land on which there are bleachers, scoreboards, backstops, parking lots, exterior lighting, surveillance cameras, playgrounds and other tree/brush and equipment surrounding all of the buildings.

Hill said the maintenance department handles more than 450 written work orders every year.

“The value of Conway School District buildings is $86 million,” Hill said. “The value of the rolling stock (trucks and tractors) they operate is worth $500,000.

“The amount of work these guys do is just unbelievable. What it’s becoming is instead of doing plant operation and maintenance, they’re now doing brush fires where there’s a sweater that got flushed down the drain at the middle school and has clogged up the sewer pump,” Hill said.

“These guys are dealing with those things and then they’re being requested to go install projectors or fix dryers and things like that,” he added.

Hill estimated the cost for the position to be $41,000 — $20 per hour for eight hours a day for a 260-workday schedule, plus $9,840 in retirement/FICA and $17,460 for a projected two-person health policy under AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) union.

As for the maintenance building, “the taxpayers have been very generous in terms of giving us the equipment we need,” Hill said.

Such equipment includes “a lot of rolling stock, very expensive rolling stock, that is actually ending up out and in the weather and under water when the river floods.

“There are flail mowers, there are backhoes, there are trailers that are left out to the elements that are basically rusting and rotting,” he said.

Hill said the bottom two feet of the current building in parts have rotted.

“I think the paint is holding it together,” he said. “There is so much equipment that needs to be stored properly. The athletic equipment, they’re piling stuff upon stuff on top of stuff.”

He said the current maintenance building “is in dire need of upgrades. Basically, the plan is to demolish the two oldest wings of that building and build a new space that can house that very expensive equipment that the taxpayers have invested in.”

Hill envisions the building costing $50,000 ($20.83 per square foot) with the foundation being on a slab.

School Superintendent Kevin Richard shared the first draft of the budget, which reflects a $708,272 increase over last year, or a 1.93 percent jump from 2019-20, up to $39,122,221.

The district is bracing for a jump of $635,631 in possible health increases (a 10 percent increase over last year).

Richard said the district will receive a guaranteed maximum price from its health insurance provider during the first week of December.

In planning this budget, officials projected a 10 percent increase in health insurance premiums.

Richard said Tuesday that the additional maintenance person and the maintenance building are both in the proposed operating budget, but the school board could choose to remove the building and make it a separate warrant article.

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