Get our newsletters

Palisades to use COVID relief funds to buy chiller for high school


While continuing its long-running practice of maintaining savings balances to fund major capital projects and other needs without taking loans, the Palisades School District is also continuing to use pandemic-related federal funding to pay for capital projects.

At its January meeting, the school board approved spending another $300,000 from the original $950,000 it received from the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act’s (ARPA’s) Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund. Pandemic-related special funding in 2020 did not include relief for municipalities and school districts.

For the current chiller project at the high school, a major component of the heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) system there, the board authorized accepting a fully ESSER-funded, lowest responsible bid of $245,000. Similarly, it agreed to use another $58,800 for an emergency generator for the district’s IT server room.

Also at the Jan. 17 meeting, the board entertained a comprehensive presentation on a four-year plan for upgrading the district’s wastewater treatment plant and related equipment, with first-year estimated spending of $179,000 already set to be available via capital funding in the 2023-24 and 2024-25 district budgets. In addition to avoiding the need for loans for the project, the district savings balances practice allows for an upgrade plan that is favored versus repairs that would only last about 10 years.

The district’s long-running savings balances practice derives from its need, during each annual budget development process, to work within mandates requiring that it can spend less, but not more, within budget timelines. Thus, as it goes through board approvals for each stage of the 9-month process before the final budget is adopted in the spring, it can subtract money, but not add any.

Since the district is only able to estimate certain expenses during budget development, some budgeted funds aren’t spent. When that happens, they can be added to savings balances. Each transfer requires board approval.

In addition to supporting major capital improvements, such as the recent roof replacement for Tinicum Elementary School, and the addition of a state-of-the-art science wing for the high school, the savings balances have also been used to plan for increased pension costs. While typically helping to avoid the need for loans, they also help minimize the need for tax increases.

In a conversation after last spring’s unanimous approval of the no-tax increase budget for 2023-2024, longtime board member James Hallowell noted that “we’ve had good staffs over the years. I remember a major capital project for the tech school where we paid our contribution in cash, and the other two (contributing) districts had to go for bonds.”

Join our readers whose generous donations are making it possible for you to read our news coverage. Help keep local journalism alive and our community strong. Donate today.