By TRACEY O’NEILL
Special to the Standard
NORTH KINGSTOWN – The roof at the Suzanne M. Henseler Quidnessett Elementary School is still leaking and with the opening of schools just a few weeks away on August 28, teachers and parents are concerned that conditions will deteriorate.
Tuesdays meeting of the North Kingstown School Committee meeting had members once again pleading with superintendent Dr. Philip Auger and Finance Director Mary King to get the job done. King is performing double duty while the school department seeks a replacement for Ned Draper, Plant & Grounds Supervisor who resigned as of August 1.
“It’s been going on for years,” teacher Kimberly Wilson said in a phone interview this week. “I was at Quidnessett today. Ceiling tiles were down in the library from the rain over the weekend. The roof is still leaking.”
Wilson who has been teaching at the school for 9 years, appeared before the School Committee in June to discuss conditions. Joined by fellow teacher and colleague, Amanda Kirkutis, Wilson presented a graphic explanation of the conditions under which teachers and staff are forced to operate.
“This is a health and safety issue for the children,” Wilson testified in June.
Holding binders of photographs, paperwork and documentation collected in support of her claims, Wilson offered the evidence to the committee. “The water is still coming in. There are dehumidifiers - buckets of water. The carpets are soaked.”
Though not an expert, Wilson read from mold and air-testing documents. One purchased and sent for testing at the teacher’s own expense showed mold growth after being placed on the classroom rug.
Dehumidifiers placed throughout the school were emptying into student sinks during the day when children were in the classrooms, with electrical cords draped over the sinks. Buckets were placed to catch falling water from the roof and janitorial staff worked in classrooms trying to remedy the situation during classroom hours.
Testimony from the School Committee and Superintendent at the June 26 meeting supported the existence of the conditions, although an immediate remedy was not available.
“We have plans that the roof will be fixed mainly with warrantee money over the summer,” Auger said at the time. “We have a desire to get this done over the summer.”
Auger further spoke as to the scope of the project encompassing more than just the timely bid process. The project was not limited to roof repairs and included removal of all carpeting in the school, air quality and mold testing, water table testing and replacement of classroom flooring. Because of the extent of the work needed to be done, the project was not seen as a likely candidate for summer completion.
And, because it was not seen as an emergent issue under RIDE standards, there was no avenue for fast tracking available.
King presented information at Tuesday’s meeting as to repairs that had been made at the elementary school in anticipation of its opening. The announcement that the school’s windows, purportedly inoperable and unable to be opened, had been repaired drew both applause and heckling from the crowd gathered in the auditorium.
The question of a possible water table issue in the school remained unanswered as results of concrete flooring core samples sent for testing had not yet been returned. The water table testing, a precursor to replacing previously saturated carpeting in the classrooms, is a precautionary cost-saving measure designed to thwart any future issues that may arise with the floor.
The core sampling has no effect on the sieve effect of the leaking roof and resultant carpet saturation.
King noted that the cafeteria roof was still leaking in an area that contained an inoperable HVAC unit. Repair to that area will not be accomplished prior to school opening due to a roof design issue that will also need to be remedied. Per King, the classroom leaks have been repaired. No mention was made of the roof leaks in the library.
Subject to a seemingly endless and proverbial ream of red tape to bring about a solution, frustration was heard at the dais and from the audience. The bid process must to go forward and approvals from the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), the School Committee and the Town Council are needed before the full project and flooring replacement can commence.
Committee Member, William Mudge, expressed his wishes for the School Committee to act immediately to see the HVAC system and roof in the cafeteria repaired. “This is a result of terrible maintenance management,” said Mudge. “Teachers have been reporting this year after year.”
Calling for a full report and written disclosure of all of the issues, Mudge was supported by fellow committee members Richard A. Welch, Lynda Avanzato and Melvoid Benson.
“We don’t want to hear any of the excuses,” Welch added. “We want the [units] replaced before the heating season begins in November.”
As for the carpet replacement, Auger said that won’t be happening soon enough. Calling for an understanding as to the procedural requirements, Auger voiced his support for improvements at the school, with a permanent flooring fix tabled to next summer.
In the meantime, the situation remains much the same as it did in June. The roof is leaking, an HVAC system is inoperable, and the carpeting, dehumidifiers and buckets remain in place.
“Feel my pain,” said Wilson, who is preparing to return to the classroom on August 28.