A better school for our children

This blog is for parents who agree that our school building needs to be updated more than just a new roof and new boiler. We want better for our kids. We want the very old parts of our building redone. If you want to find out more, visit us often!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

For our School and our Families

Hello all!
I wanted to pass along an update on the continuing developments in the school building renovation proposal. Earlier this year the proposed renovation project was halted by a vote at a town meeting to stop the proposal from going to referendum. If you are not familiar with the history, contact me and I can give you more details. The latest development is that the board of selectmen has formed a new committee to make a recommendation and all Salem School parents need to be aware of the direction that this committee appears to be heading. I know the following is long and a ton of information but if you could please take the time to read through it and pass it along that would be great.
Before I start my first post - I want you to take notice of the sidebar to your left. There is a list of people who are going to be our best friends over the next couple of months. I would love for some of you to contact them and express your feelings. Tell them your thoughts! The more people they hear from, the more they will realize our goal - which is to remodel the oldest sections of the school. I also want to stress that this building committee has a big task. They need to hear from the public so they know what the public wants. If they think that everyone agrees with their recommendations, then that will be all that goes to referendum in October. This is not a place to criticize the building committee, but to question their actions.
The building committee has started to meet on the possible changes to our school building. I say possible because nothing is final until October when it MAY go to referendum, so we have time to act. But not much.
I have to start by saying that we need to make it a big priority to attend the building committee meetings. While we are not allowed to speak at the meetings, my presence on June 15th spoke volumes. I took notes, collected their hand outs, but my chest was in knots by the time I left. So sit back – this is going to be a LONG post. But it needs to be out there. EVERYONE needs to know.
I did ask the chair person (Elbert Burr) who we can address our questions too. He said that he had sent my information and questions along to the selectman, and that the selectman is who I called the First Selectman, and I am going to have time to talk with him on Monday, June 21st and will give you the details after that conversation. Mr. Burr states that the building committee will not be making decisions – just recommendations.
They started the 2 hour meeting discussing a few things from the last meeting. Mr. Bourdeau - who is the town's Director of Public Works - was there to answer some questions. He didn't attend the first meeting so the committee had a lot of questions for him. Many good questions - I might add, especially from Mr. Burr. So from discussions with him – here are some of the things I gathered:
1 – they are not going to do anything with the 1994 side at all. All committee agreed that side of the building is in good working order
2 – the three biggest problems are the roof, the boiler, and the windows. I will address what was said about all three of those.
3- electrical problems that came up
- Using extension cords in the classrooms because of the smart boards.
- 1940 addition has limited outlets, so this is why they need extension cords.
- In some classrooms the extension cords are under rugs (which is a tripping hazard)
- The extension cords are not permitted per fire code
- Needs to be looked at by an electrical engineer.
- Breaker panels are full
- New subpanels needed for any new form of electricity.
- Clean power is not available for all sensitive equipment
**okay – sidebar. My biggest thing with the above is the facts that there aren’t enough electrical outlets to run the equipment needed in each classroom. And the fact they are using extension cords and covering them is a big no-no. I have a daughter with a severe vision impairment (her name is "F" for this blog) I am thinking of "F" with this one. With her limited sight, extension cords cannot be run in the room and definitely not covered with a rug. She will surely trip. That needs to go away.
But how? You might ask. This is a good question. The committee didn't really address this too much. While they agree that extension cords are not the answer, they quickly skimmed over it and it was never brought up again. Because it would be an extensive renovation to delve into the rewiring and adding of outlets, it is not a place they really want to go. So – the 70 year old building with its 70 year old outlets is not a big concern for them. Please keep this in mind.
And the breaker panels are full? So adding new equipment seems out of the question. For example (just because "F" is my easiest example) – "F" will have a computer, a brailler, braille writer, and a CCTV that will ALL need to be plugged in. And they take up room. How is the power in that area of the building going to support just her things?
4- water disposal and septic and leaching
- Septic is being pumped every year
- No deficiencies found
5 – roof
- Maintained on a quarterly basis and repaired as needed
- TREMCO – roof contractor. The roof contract is up in 1 year
- There is a new code for the roof (would look into state reimbursement because of this) ?? Please don't quote me here - I am not sure what this means entirely.
- Mr. Bourdeau said he didn’t bring a copy of the roof analysis, but he would bring it to the next meeting
- Architect from the first time they looked at the building renovation, looked at the roof and said the redo needs to be done with a slope.
- In definite need of replacement in the 1940,1956, 1963, 1970 parts of the building.
**side Bar – we all agree the roof needs to be repaired like……10 years ago. I understand that it is leaking significantly is certain parts of the building and the teachers are having to use buckets to catch water on really rainy days. The committee also agrees that the roof is the #1 priority. I completely agree. Here lies the problem. The roof is not up to code being the way it is – it will need to be sloped (according to the architect) This, of course, is an added cost. I could not get a feel from the committee if they were in agreement with this or not. I am not sure they would have a choice (?) I think some were fine with it, some where not. They have great poker faces! (probably because I was there)
6 – Asbestos
- Found in the building
- Mr. Bourdeau stated that if"it is not going to be touched, it is not a hazard."
- They are doing an asbestos abatement in 1 week in 2 classrooms. One of them is a second grade classroom. They are also doing part of the floor in another section of the building. I guess the tile in these areas is coming up, and since there is asbestos under them, the tiles need to be removed and replaced.  At that time, the asbestos under those tiles will be removed.
**Side bar – Okay. What can I say about Asbestos? I mean – it needs to be removed. I hate that they are waiting for it to crack the floors before they fix the problem. I guess one of the issues is that they don’t know what they are going to find when they start to dig up the floor because they have to go all the way to the concrete. I don’t know why they were concerned about this – Mr. Burr didn’t elaborate.  The following information and questions I received from a friend of mine.  I think they are good points and valid questions. : "The tiles are considered safe as long as they aren't cracked. There are a few cracked tiles in the classrooms they want to fix. They have been mitigated by covering/sealing with plastic with a rug over it so the asbestos is contained. Questions I wonder about is how much/where is there more of these tiles in the building?  How often and carefully (do they lift rugs?) are the areas with asbestos in the tiles inspected?  How often is the plastic covering on the mitigation checked to make sure it hasn't torn?  When they replace the cracked ones in those rooms will they do the whole classroom or just the cracked ones?"
7 – Plumbing
- There are several different types of pipe in the older sections of the building
- Copper, lead, and cast (black) iron pipes
- Mr. Bourdeau said that the long leads of pipe are all iron
- The water is being treated with a non-toxic chemical, but Robert Green is unsure how long this chemical will be effective to make safe drinking water.
- Water tested on a regular basis (quarterly)
- In the 1940 section of the building, a few years ago there was a lead issue with the water and new well(s) were drilled. The school had to go to bottled water during this time. Bob Green was unsure where the sample was taken from where they found the lead.
**Side Bar. So – the piping is old. I have read that black iron pipe isn’t used any more because it rusts easily. I could not find black iron or lead pipes on the list of NSF approved piping. I did send NSF an email and asked but they said without seeing the piping, they couldn't advise. So we will see. The site did say that after the Safe Water Act of 1996, lead pipes stopped being used because of the high amounts of lead that were found in the water. Again – I am not an expert by any means, but because I wasn’t allowed to ask any questions, I still have a few (100). Also, Mr. Asafaylo was not convinced and wanted to see the lead levels from when that well was replaced a few years ago. He wanted to know where the sample was taken from, and how toxic was the water – like was the drinking fountain high lead content? He was expressing that he thought the drilling of new wells was an unnecessary expense. But Mr. Green didn’t know where it was cultured. Mr. Asafaylo thought they were cultured at the well, but Mr. Green said no. But I was not sure why it mattered – considering it is a done deal. They need to focus on the plumbing they have now. Mr. Bourdeau's stance was “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it”.
8 – Fire Protection
- Up to codes FOR WHEN THE SCHOOL WAS BUILT. (I want you to remember this sentence because this comes up a lot)
- Practice 8 fire drills a year
- Can get the kids out of the building in 5 minutes or less. (have a sweeper that sweeps the building to make sure all kids are out)
- No sprinklers. Mr. Bourdeau states “sprinklers don’t save lives, they save buildings”.
- If sprinklers were installed they would need a separate water system.
- Any new additions to the building would require sprinklers to bring the building up to code. (for the year 2010)
- Exits are lit and smoke detectors are in all halls.
- Mr. Bourdeau states that the fire drill can be heard in all parts of the building, and that the intercom system could be used if necessary over the fire drill. Phones will operate on generator if the power goes out.
- There are no blinking fire alarms – for people who can’t hear.
**Side Bar. What I need us to focus on is this code “for when the school was built” thing. The building passes inspection because in 1940, 1956, etc. when the parts were built, they were put in according to code. But for 2010 – the building is NOT UP TO CODE that would be put in any new building today. Mr. Bourdeau did make the point that about every 2 years codes get changed/increased, etc. But still. 1940-2010. 70 years. That is a long time. A lot has changed. The building is not up to current code – it would require sprinklers, and flashing fire lights for the hearing impaired (I wonder how the ADA would feel about this one…..) and since they are not interested in a remodel, then they don’t want to install these things because (say it with me) they are expensive. I do not agree with the statement that “sprinklers don’t save lives”. If the sprinklers come on and put out the fire – how is that NOT saving lives of maybe kids that might be trapped in a part of the building? Mr. Burr did ask about kids being trapped. Mr. Bourdeau said : 1) the teachers could just let the kids out the window. 2) the staff/people in the building are going to notice a fire getting started, so chances of it getting to the point where kids are trapped are slim. Mr. Burr also asked him about a scenario of a fire in the Boiler room. And Mr. Bourdeau said (and I quote) "you have 1 hour to get out of the building if the boiler room catches fire. The fire doors last that long.”
And we do have children who are hearing impaired. So I am not sure how they cannot put in the blinking fire alarms.
9 – Heating and Air Conditioning
- Two old boilers – need to be replaced.
**nothing else to say here. We all know this. There wasn’t even a discussion – they need replaced.
10- Windows
- In the 1940,1956, 1963, 1970 parts of the building all windows need to be replaced.
- Cost is going to be around $900/window
- In the 1970 section all the windows are high and out of reach
- Mr. Bourdeau said that all windows you can get in and out of, and a fireman with a pack on can get in and out of.
- Mr. Bourdeau did say that the windows – some are 13 feet high and very heavy and don’t open easily.
- All agreed that windows needed to be replaced.
- Mr. Green did mention that if you are going to take off the roof and the windows, you could use that opportunity to push out the walls in the classrooms, but most people on the committee did not agree with this.
**Nothing much to say. I agree with Mr. Green that if they are doing all this work, why wouldn’t they just do some other things. "Ed. Specs". did come up a few times – but they weren’t interested in talking about that yet. They wanted to narrow down the repairs they wanted to do first. Dave Wedge – just for an FYI – is the name of the ed. spec. guy for the state. I want to see if we can head him off at the pass at some point and talk with him.
Then the committee went on to talk about other things. First they talked about Donna Leake’s feelings about what needs to be done. (for those of you who don’t know she is the superintendent). Her biggest concern at this point is security. The plan is to go on a tour of the building with Donna (the building committee) and get her input. The tour is Thursday, June 24th at 9am. I am going to try and go. I have emailed back and forth with Donna a few times and she seems on board on hearing about the building changes and how they would affect "F" and other students. Mr. Burr stated to the committee that Mrs. Leake liked the layout of the building and didn't want to change it. So I asked her. Her response was this: "We talked about what could be done to address these concerns within the existing footprint of the building, including possibilities of moving the office areas without adding additional space to the building".
I have a meeting with Mrs. Leake, Mr. Green, Mr. Bourdeau, and a few other people (some related to "F's" specific needs) on July 1st at 12:30. I will ask her more questions at that time.
There is a gentleman that they are going to meet with named Hugh Pierson. They are meeting with him on the 23rd or 24th. He was a contact from Donna Leake. The committee will report to him the items that are the most important. It costs to get his advice, so maybe he is an architect? I don’t know – they didn’t say (and I couldn’t ask). The committee did say they had about $7000 in their working budget for these people, but would have to increase it probably up to $20,000-$25,000. Mr. Burr asked for ballpark numbers for all the areas that need to be replaced.
They talked about getting a general contractor to deal with the problems and the work so that if the (example) windows come in and they are the wrong size, the committee won’t even know it – the contractor will handle it. They also talked about hiring a project manager who would have to report to the building committee and keep an eye on what is going on.
The last thing they did before we left was go over the “Summary of Education Specifications for Salem Schools” that was approved by the BOE last year (2009) in the spring. There were 32 items on the list that were mentioned as areas to be addressed. I will not go into the specifics, but I have them if you want to look at them. I will tell you the areas that were mentioned. (long range plans, square footage, power, wastewater disposal, pavements/walks, storm drainage, recreational field, roof, exterior walls, windows, exterior doors, interior flooring, interior finish, hazardous material, structural, plumbing, fire protection, mechanical, electrical, standby equipment, site lighting, general building lighting, fire alarm system, communications, master clock system, video distribution system, security system – intrusion alarm, access control, CCTV, technology, energy conservation rebate program, building height and area, construction bonus requests, community uses).
Out of these things – the committee thinks these are the only areas that need to be addressed: roof, windows, exterior doors (and they don’t really want to address this, but find a cheaper solution – I will explain), plumbing, mechanical, electrical (meaning not rewiring, but maybe adding a circuit board), general building lighting, master clock system, energy conservation rebate program.
Okay – I know my post is getting long, but I swear I am almost done. Stay with me.
The exterior doors. We ALL know that security is definitely sub par at Salem. Now Mr. Asafaylo did have a solution that I thought was reasonable, and it would not cost them to renovate the front of the building (although that was going to be really nice – people were going to have to walk into the office, and couldn’t go ANYWHERE else in the building until they checked in). first of all – all the teachers have “fobs” – little things that let them into the building – because all the doors are locked. There are 7 cameras around the building (or 5 – Mr. Bourdeau couldn’t remember). Mr. Bourdeau said that some of the doors need to be replaced, but he didn’t say which ones. And he didn’t say why.
Now Mr. Asafaylo's solution was to hire someone to sit at the front door to sign people in and out. I guess East Lyme high school does this. That way everyone that comes through the front door is immediately stopped by someone. Because right now – do you really have to go to the office? Yes. But do people? No. They talked about hiring 3 people – all part time (one to cover sick time) to sit out there every day during school hours. I thought this solution was fair. It has a lot of kinks to work out of course, but it was better than what we have.
Interior Flooring and Interior Finish are two areas the committee didn’t even want to kind of address. They skipped them completely, Under them was to remove and replace the floors, and removal of current built in systems and redesign and install all new. Now for "F" (and for all kids) this would have been a huge plus. "F" could really use a change in floors to help her get around the building better. And to have more shelving, and more floor space so she doesn’t trip? Another plus. But not even addressed.
They talked about the type of lighting and one committee member said “well at home, I replace a bulb when a bulb goes out – why can’t we do the same here?” But Mr. Burr did say if we have one yellow, and one white, and one blinking, and one out, they should replace them all. I agree because of "F" – different types of lighting are going to cause her problems.
They skipped fire alarm system even though under that section the BOE had “a new fire alarm system is recommended, fully addressable and ADA compliant is desired”. Nope – not even addressed by the committee.
Yes – they really included master clock system in there 8 things they chose as top priority. Mr. Green did say that they can’t get the parts for them anymore, so Mr. Burr thought that was a huge problem. I am not sure why.
One last thing to address with the security – I guess there was a bank robber a few years ago, and the school went into full lock down mode. But Mr. Bourdeau said “I don’t think if something like that happens, the school needs to go into full lock down. If the front doors are all locked, school can continue with business as usual.” I do not agree with this at all and let me tell you why. Two years ago – at the school where I am working- they had a similar issue. A person robbed a convenience store. But do you know what he did? He RAN TO THE SCHOOL TO HIDE. So what makes Mr. Bourdeau think that won’t happen at Salem? He said “a bank robber isn’t going to run in and steal kids”. No, but he is going to need somewhere to hide. And a school is a big place with a lot of hiding places. It was scary for my school, and we were in full lock down for hours. I think keeping the kids as safe as possible should be key. Mr. Bourdeau said himself – not everyone closes the doors behind them, so the doors aren’t always secure. So, I say stick with full lock down.
The next building committee meeting is June 29th. I REALLY REALLY want a lot of us to go. It will be at 7pm at the TOWN library. ( I will notify you if this changes). We cannot speak, but we can listen, and I think if they see parents that care at these meetings, that will help them realize that the town is listening. That people who have kids at this school are listening. And we aren’t liking what we are hearing. So I employ you to join me. I hope you are still with me after this long post! I want to hear from you – hear your thoughts. Also – spread address to this blog around. You have my permission to email it to everyone and anyone you know that lives in town and will listen.
I am also planning on writing an editorial for the paper. And I think many of us should do the same. We will be having a parent meeting on June 30th. It will be at the TOWN LIBRARY at 7pm. So June 29th – 7pm – building committee. June 30th – 7pm – parent meeting. Then on July 1st, Mat and I have a meeting with the superintendent, Bob Green, BESB (board of ed for the blind). So I want to have met with you all before that.
So go spread the word!!!! And leave a comment (just click on the word comment below and let me know you were here. And if you have questions. Etc.)

1 comment:

  1. I was on the 1st building committee for nearly three years. We worked very, very hard to create the original plan that you are referring to. I believe that plan was the most economical, fiscally responsible and most beneficial plan for our school over the long run.

    That being said, the reason that plan never made it to referendum was that the people apposed to the plan rallied together to attend the town meeting and almost no one else showed up! The naysayers tabled the discussion on the proposed plan at the town meeting before we could even finish our presentation. They wanted a plan “B” but they refused to listen to and comment on the plan that we (volunteers) had worked 2 ½ years of our “free” time to create. How can anyone create a plan B to fix plan A when no one wanted to let the building committee know what they liked or didn’t like about the plan that was being presented! I later heard from many would be supporters of our plan that they “just assumed that there would be a referendum” so they didn’t go to the town meeting.

    The biggest issue that the “in favor of a better tomorrow” group will run into is getting the people who liked the original proposed plan to show up and speak out at a town meeting. We tried informational sessions at school coffee’s and almost no one showed up, we tried presenting a slide show before a school concert and it got so loud no one could hear anything.

    I think that showing up to the building committee meetings is a great idea. I also think that attending board of selectman meetings and speaking up at the public comment time is even more important. The board of selectmen never put their “stamp of approval” on the original plan and you need to make it clear that is what you want them to do this time. It also would be very helpful to get The Day newspaper to write stories about how much you all support the original plan. The naysayer’s did a great job of that the 1st time around.

    But the most important and effective thing that supporters of the original plan can do is show up at the town meeting, when the new plan is being presented to the town, and demand that a vote be taken to bring the original plan to referendum in place of the “new” plan.

    Good luck with your efforts. I will be an active supporter.