Canton schools seek new boiler, project updates

Canton Central School District. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

CANTON — As students and teachers continue to learn and teach remotely, Canton Central School District officials this week are awaiting an essential shipment — a boiler.

The boiler at Hugh C. Williams High School failed “beyond repair” on Wednesday, Superintendent Ronald P. Burke said during a Board of Education meeting Thursday night, prompting a temporary closure of the elementary, middle and high schools and an emergency authorization to purchase a new water heating unit.

Hot water in restrooms and the high school cafeteria — building code and state Education Department requirements — cannot be provided, and the F.S. Banford Elementary School cafeteria is not equipped to safely produce and distribute food district-wide, Mr. Burke said.

Board members on Thursday approved an expenditure from the district’s general fund of no more than $15,000 for the same boiler unit from Northern Mechanicals, Norfolk. The unit was shipped from Tennessee, Mr. Burke said, and is expected to arrive this week and be installed ideally by Friday.

Administrators initially thought maintaining hybrid instruction at the elementary and middle schools would be possible, but potential COVID-19 exposures forced four transportation staff members to quarantine, creating a “nearly impossible feat” to transport students on current routes, Mr. Burke said.

“This week has been that perfect storm,” he said.

The district’s Facilities Committee has been reworking elements of the $24 million capital project scheduled to receive a public vote last spring. The vote was postponed roughly two months into the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, Mr. Burke and the Facilities Committee agreed the project should be re-evaluated this year to determine how a “pared down” proposal might move forward.

“Part of what we discussed before the boiler blew up this week, was how long can we live with what we’ve got?” Board of Education and Facilities Committee member Daniel Thomas said. “I think this week really shows us that we’re at risk of shutting the school down more and more the longer some of these things drag on. The sooner we can take action here the better.”

The district previously shifted to fully remote instruction in November, after a water main leak required immediate repair and left parts of the school campus without potable water for a few days.

A reworked capital project proposal may include updates to kitchen equipment, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, security upgrades, bus garage work and parking lot work.

“We’re talking bare bones upgrades, that as we can see from this week, are not just needed but essential, really required to keep the boat afloat,” Mr. Thomas said, adding that some systems and equipment are 30 or even 50 years old.

Projects may be separated into three propositions, with the first including the “essential” internal health and safety upgrades — HVAC, kitchen equipment and windows, for example.

Proposition two may cover bus garage and parking lot work, and proposition three would involve the reconfiguration of cafeterias and office complexes.

The timing of any proposals, Mr. Thomas said, is being discussed with King & King Architects, Syracuse.

“These are things that are not glorious, they’re not ribbon-cutting-ceremony type items,” Mr. Burke said. “But they are essential for the continuation of us having school open for students and staff in a safe manner.”

More time consuming and costly proposals within last year’s capital project vision, including a multi-purpose athletic field and relocation of the swimming pool, may be set back years, board members said.

If the boiler is installed by Friday and district COVID-19 cases are stagnant, hybrid instruction will likely resume Jan. 19, following Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

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