Pension costs delay school system contract plan

About $435,000 stands in the way of the Lafayette Parish school district’s plan to contract out repairs and preventative maintenance of its heating, ventilation and air conditioning services, rather than having its own staff do the work.

That’s how much it would cost the district in a one-time payment for the unfunded accrued pension costs for the seven school system employees in its HVAC department who would be displaced if the school district contracts the work, Lafayette Parish Schools Superintendent Pat Cooper said.

A school district committee, after reviewing proposals, had recommended Bernhard Mechanical for a five-year contract for the job. The School Board was set to vote on the contract at its Feb. 20 meeting until a review of the impact of displacing or even moving the employees to another department revealed the additional expense.

The annual cost of Bernhard’s contract is about $2 million and includes a provision that any annual savings be split between the school system and the company. The proposal wasn’t the lowest, but the committee ranked it higher based on the company’s experience maintaining larger mechanical systems and its own work within the school system, school officials told the School Board on Feb. 6.

“We’re in discussions with Bernhard right now to see if they can make any adjustments,” Cooper said in an interview Monday. “We told them to tell us where you can cut. If they can’t, all bets are off.”