PAWTUCKET — This weekend, work got underway to address the ceilings in the Potter-Burns Elementary School, with a target date of June 3 still on for classes to resume.
Since last Wednesday's incident in which a 6-foot by 10-foot section in a basement classroom gave way, all of the ceilings in the nearly 100-year-old building have been inspected by outside structural engineers and the city's building officials. Now, the immediate solution involves shoring up some of the ceilings with a strapping support system while in other areas, the ceiling material will be removed completely.
Schools Superintendent Deborah Cylke said Monday that the contractor, Ahlborg Construction, is working with the engineering firm Edward Rowse Architects on a temporary plan for the ceilings so the school can re-open by next Monday. She said it is clear that the school's ceilings, most of which are original to the school when it was built in 1914, will have to be replaced and the school department will have to go out to bid for this job.
In the meantime, Cylke said that some ceilings will be reinforced with the strapping system, while in other areas, the engineers thought it was prudent to remove the ceiling material — a layer of plaster over gypsum board--completely. In these cases, the ceilings will be left exposed to the floor joists. She said the ceiling replacement will be done over the summer, but this step will allow the building to be safely occupied by students and staff to finish out the current school year.
Cylke said this project will cost $179,000 and Ahlborg Construction was the low bidder out of three who submitted proposals by Friday's deadline. She said that she, the schools' Business Administrator Thomas Conlon, and Dennis Rebello, director of physical plant, worked with city Purchasing Director David Clemente, who reviewed the bids and said the low bidder was qualified to do the work.
Cylke said it tentatively appears that Potter-Burns students will have to make up two out of the six missed days of classes, which would involve extending the school year to Thursday, June 27 and Friday, June 28. She has applied to the Rhode Island Commissioner of Education for a waiver for the other four school days, which she expects will be granted given the emergency nature of the closure.
While Cylke has been focused on getting the school re-opened as soon as possible, School Committeeman David Coughlin has faulted the superintendent for forging ahead with the bid process.
He said that by statute, the School Committee is supposed to approve all bids and maintained Cylke should have called an emergency meeting of the committee to do this.
Coughlin said that since the situation was of an emergency nature, the usual requirement of a 48-hour posting could have been waived. As such, he said he saw no reason why Cylke could not have called an emergency meeting. Coughlin said that while the low bidder was chosen, there was a difference of about $40,000 between that bid and the next highest, and he would have liked to have been able to ask questions about the material being used and other aspects of the job.
Coughlin suggested that the contract with Ahlborg Construction might not even be legal, given that the School Committee had not approved it. “I don't see anywhere in the statute where the superintendent has the authority to enter into a contract. She is the agent of the School Committee and only has the authority that we give her to enter into contracts,” said Coughlin.