NAUGATUCK — Borough officials are putting the pieces in place to move forward with a project to replace the Naugatuck High School roof after solar panels built into the roof failed.
Officials discovered earlier this year that the photovoltaic solar panels on the roof weren’t working properly and disconnected them, but they still pose a threat since they are constantly producing electricity.
The panels were built into the roof when it was replaced about nine years ago. Since the electrical components are built directly into the roof and the panels are attached to the roof, removing the solar system means replacing the entire roof of the school, officials say.
The issue with the roof raised several questions — particularly how to pay for the work. Officials began to put those pieces into place during a special Board of Mayor and Burgesses on April 16.
The board approved creating a property and casualty loss reserve fund that can be used for projects like replacing the roof. The fund, according to Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess, allows the borough to borrow to money for the roof project without sending it to a referendum.
Hess said the project needs to start immediately after school lets out for the summer in June. He added the funds for the project need to be in place and the borough doesn’t have time to send the project to a referendum.
“We have to do the roof in the summer and we have to have a way to pay for it in the summer, and the fact is that the summer is almost here,” Hess said.
The Joint Boards of Mayor and Burgesses and Finance approved a resolution to create the fund and appropriate $4.5 million to it for the roof project during a special meeting on Monday.
Whether the borough will have to foot the entire bill to replace the roof is still up in the air. The borough is likely to bond the money. Hess said officials are also looking at using money from the fund balance and the surplus from the 2018-19 budget.
Hess is also in talks with state officials about the state possibly reimbursing some of the cost.
The state often reimburses municipalities for roof replacement projects. However, state funding is usually allocated to replace roofs that are at least 20 years old.
After talking with officials from the state Department of Administrative Services, Hess believes the borough could be reimbursed between $1.8 and $2.2 million.
“We are in the 20-year period where, arguably, there is an issue of whether we are eligible or not. But we believe we have a very strong shot to get approximately half,” Hess said.
Department of Administrative Services Spokesman John McKay confirmed that his agency has had discussions with Hess, adding they were expected to meet again to discuss the issue.
The borough is also trying to file an insurance claim and get money from Solar Integrated Technologies, the California-based company that created the solar panels. However, the company went out of business in 2015.
“Our prospects do not look strong, but we have not given up on it. We are still looking,” Hess said.
In preparation to move forward, the board also approved a building committee to oversee the project. The committee will be responsible for hiring the architectural firm to design the plans and the construction company to do the work.
Hess expects the architectural firm to be hired shortly and the construction company to be in place by June 1. The last day of school is scheduled for June 10, and Hess is hoping the work will begin by June 15.