PAWTUCKET — The School Committee held a 6 a.m. emergency meeting on Thursday to handle details involved in ceiling repairs as well as receive an update from an architectural firm on the condition of other older schools in the district.
According to School Committee Chairman Alan Tenreiro, the committee voted to officially approve a contract with Ahlborg Construction to make temporary repairs or adjustments to the ceilings at the Potter-Burns and Nathanael Greene elementary schools.
Ahlborg Construction was the low bidder out of three firms that submitted proposals to address the ceiling problems at the Potter-Burns Elementary School in the wake of last Wednesday's ceiling detachment. The original cost estimate for either shoring up the ceilings or removing the plaster-over-gypsum board layer completely throughout the nearly 100-year-old school was $179,000.
Citing the need to get the repair work started as soon as possible, Schools Supt. Deborah Cylke had given the go-ahead to the vendor contact, saying it had been vetted by city Purchasing Director David Clemente.
However, since similar ceiling issues were discovered during an inspection of the Nathanael Greene School, Ahlborg Construction has been given the go-ahead by the school board to apply the same remedy there, as well as at any other city school in need of repair. Nathanael Greene was constructed in 1918, during the same era as Potter-Burns. The contract will be applied on a room-by-room basis as needed, said Tenreiro.
At the meeting, a representative of Edward Rowse Architects gave the School Committee an update on the findings during recent inspections of the city's oldest school buildings. He said that conditions of the ceilings at Slater Junior High School, built in 1915, were found to be in good shape, as were those at Goff Junior High, constructed in 1931. The only exception at Goff was a beam in the ceiling of the gymnasium. This area has been closed temporarily until a reinforcement can be made, Tenreiro said.
The inspections found the ceiling at Shea High School, built in 1940, to be of a different construction style. The grid style ceilings are reportedly still sturdy and holding up well despite the building's age, Tenreiro said. The inspection of Tolman High School, built in 1927, was expected to be completed by Thursday night, he said.
Tenreiro said that the rest of the city's school buildings were built in later years and/or had undergone renovations so their ceilings were not thought to be of concern.
According to a 2011 educational facilities assessment, most of the city's other schools were built during the early to later 1960s and early 1970s, with the newest being the Jenks Junior High/JMW Arts High School complex, constructed in 1977. That assessment estimated that about $152 million would have to be spent to bring all 16 city schools up to modern-day educational standards.
Tenreiro added that some of the photos taken during the inspection at Nathanael Greene were eye-opening to the committee members because in some rooms, newer “drop ceilings” had been installed over the original ceiling panels. In several of these rooms, the plaster-over-gypsum board sections had also become detached from the joists, and were being held up by pipes, wires and other reinforcements that ran across the ceiling.
Tenreiro also said that the committee voted to approve Cylke's request for a waiver from the state education commissioner to cover four school days missed by the two elementary schools during the ceiling repairs. She plans to have the students at Potter-Burns and Nathanael Greene make up two school days on June 27 and 28, but said she is hoping to avoid extending the school year into the first week of July. For the students attending the rest of the schools in the district, the last day of classes will be June 26 due to make-up days from snow storms.
Tenreiro said the early morning meeting was scheduled out of a necessity to get the contract and waiver approved and to not delay action on the schools any longer. He said the committee will be discussing the condition of the schools in more detail at the next regular School Committee meeting. Also to be determined is the funding source that will be used to pay for the new ceilings that will need to be installed as a permanent solution at Potter-Burns and Nathanael Greene schools.