New HVAC systems are headed to the Montezuma-Cortez Middle School and Kemper, Mesa and Lewis-Arriola elementaries.
The Montezuma-Cortez school board unanimously approved the purchase and installation at its meeting May 19. Dean Matthews, of contractor Matthews Electric, expects it will be finished before the start of classes in August.
“I think everybody understands that it’s pretty warm in the fall, and a little bit in the spring,” Matthews said at the meeting. “Along with the cooling, we would have a backup heating source, so that it would not tax your boilers so hard.”
The cost of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems is $992,130 for the three elementary schools and $173,130 for the middle school. Funding will come from recently recovered back taxes from Kinder Morgan Inc., according to Jamie Haukeness, Re-1 director of safety and facilities.
The vote was 6-0. Board member Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk was absent.
According to Haukeness, the district initially received bids from two companies: Matthews Electric and Weminuche, with Comfort Air as Weminuche’s subcontractor. At its April meeting, the school board approved a contract with Matthews for the middle school HVAC system, and so on May 19, the board was determining whether to add the elementary schools to Matthews’ work.
Board members were hesitant about the contract, especially because of uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“We don’t know our financial future,” said board President Sherri Wright.
She added that it might be best to save the money until the future becomes more certain.
Others, though, said despite the uncertainty, a high-quality environment for teachers and students was too important to delay, especially when educators are already stretched thin.
“As a district, we have a responsibility to the teachers and the students and the infrastructure we have,” said board member Chris Flaherty.
Having better HVAC systems could help with teacher retention, Flaherty said.
At the beginning of the HVAC discussion, board Vice President Sheri Noyes read aloud a letter expressing concerns that an undisclosed board member wished her not to vote on this item because she is a part-time employee with Comfort Air, which had been part of one of the bids for the project.
“What I do not agree with is how it came about,” Noyes said. “I feel this is very divisive of the board and creates mistrust. I have been involved with the discussions and voting up to this point, and feel this should have been a board discussion months ago if this was such a concern.”
She added that she felt she could be impartial, and the bid involving Comfort Air was not under consideration because it was too high. The other board members at the meeting agreed she should be permitted to vote.
After much deliberation, the board voted unanimously to approve the project.
“When we started this conversation, it’s like it was a different lifetime ago,” Re-1 Superintendent Lori Haukeness said. “So I just want to recognize for everyone listening that this truly was a very thoughtful and difficult decision.”