Board should be wary of contractors who seek long-term deals in return for convenience.

One could forgive members of the Crookston School Board if, when it comes to all these building issues they’re facing, they scratch their heads and wonder, “Where do we begin?”

    It seems like they’re getting hammered from all directions all of a sudden, because everyone seemingly wants to not only help them out when it comes to roofing needs and other mechanical, air and energy issues in their three school buildings and swimming pool, they also want to coordinate the entire process.

    It’s an enticing angle, after all, that whole convenience thing: “We’re the experts and you need to concentrate on the business of educating kids, so let us worry about the conditions of your buildings, and seeing to it that the proper improvements are made in the proper order.”

    No, no one from Johnson Controls or “building envelope” specialists The Garland Company have uttered those exact words, but that’s basically, in a nutshell, their sales pitch as they detail for the school board the dire need of attention some of their buildings are in.

    Ah, yes...educating kids. School board members and administrators, when it comes to budget cuts, love to say that they want to avoid cuts that directly impact kids. Well, what about when it comes to investing money? Sure, the kids are educated in these buildings and they swim in the pool, but that doesn’t make it any less easy to let things slide a bit when it comes to roofs and walls and air movements, etc. when every dollar is precious and there are kids to teach.

    First and foremost, the board and administration needs to make these pressing decisions only after careful deliberation. There are levy dollars in place for capital/maintenance projects set to come off the books in a couple years, and the debt on the bonds that built the high school will be paid off right around the same time. School district residents, when they resoundingly answered “yes” to the two questions on the ballot box in November 2011, were told at the time that they’d get some tax relief in 2015. If a comprehensive plan is improved to fix the buildings and things are financed and refinanced in order to pay for it, district residents are going to have to be convinced that reduced tax relief or no tax relief at all is necessary because the buildings that our kids spend so much time in can’t be ignored.

    Specifically, the board and administration need to think twice and maybe even several more times before they ink another long-term deal with a contractor like Johnson Controls. Ask previous board members what a burden it was every year during super lean budget times to pay around $200,000 to Johnson Controls during the last 10-year contract with the firm. Then ask them how good it felt to finally make that last payment.

    Something needs to be done. In fact, a lot of things need to be done, and they’re big things. Roofs, walls, air big public buildings, it doesn’t get more important than those three things.

    But it’s all costly. As the school board moves ahead, it needs to make sure it invests precious dollars wisely, and entrusts the work to be done with the right people.