Leak in Warren School’s new roof derails classes

Warren School
Officials discuss construction work on the Warren School during a meeting Wednesday. From left, Christine Sullivan, chair of the Harwood district board; Superintendent Brigid Nease; Ray Daigle, director of maintenance and operations for the district; Warren Principal Beth Peterson; and Michelle Baker, director of finance and operations for the district. Photo by Cyrus Ready-Campbell/VTDigger

WARREN — Administrators are figuring out how to get Warren School students back in class during repairs from a substantial leak in the recently renovated roof that halted the school year after it had barely begun.

Brigid Nease, superintendent of the Harwood Unified Union School District, said the leak occurred Sunday night at the end of a $2.5 million renovation project begun this summer.

In a letter to parents, Nease wrote that the leak was “the result of a faulty roof installation and the responsibility rests with the roofing contractor.”

Predicting the exact schedule of repairs is difficult, Nease said. She expects classes to resume in some form Monday and said kids should be back in their normal building by Wednesday.

The school serves students in kindergarten through sixth grade.

Nease said administrators and staff are exploring a variety of solutions, including using only those parts of the building deemed safe by air quality testing or busing students to facilities at Sugarbush resort.

“We’re still not getting any indication that (the need to hold classes off site) would be more than two days,” Nease said.

Kevin Babic, chief administrative officer at Sugarbush, attended an emergency meeting of the school board Wednesday at Harwood Union School in Duxbury and assured the audience the resort would help out.

Babic said work still needed to be done ironing out insurance and administrative details, but he added that “we’ll make it happen.”

Warren School
Construction continues at the Warren School. Photo by Cyrus Ready-Campbell/VTDigger
Ray Daigle, director of maintenance and operations for the school district, said the main air quality concerns are mold spores and particulate matter from old asbestos-laced building materials that were used when the school was constructed in 1979.

Nease told the audience of parents and teachers that “almost all schools have asbestos” and “unless it’s compromised, as long as it’s covered and not disturbed, it remains.”

Daigle said contractors will continue, over the next several days, to remove unsafe materials, dry out wet areas and periodically test the air quality until results are within safe limits.

This leak, Nease said, added another obstacle to what has already been a tumultuous start to the year for the school.

The first day of school was delayed two days last week, from Aug. 28 to Aug. 30, to allow teachers and staff to finish cleaning up after construction and to set up classrooms.

After three days in session, the leak pushed back classes again, Nease said.

Aaron Stewart, vice president of Stewart Construction, the firm contracted to renovate the school, said repairs have been held up by rain.

Stewart added that the roofers have “got 10 guys lined up ready to hit this as soon as the rain stops.” He estimated that, once nice weather resumes, repairs should take three days.

In the meantime, Stewart said, there are people “on site 24/7, monitoring to make sure we’re not getting pooling or anything like that.”

Nease added that she was already exploring the option of hiring a second asbestos abatement company to speed that part of the process.

Beth Peterson, principal of the school, thanked parents and teachers for their patience in dealing with the confusion and delays.

“We do realize what a burden this is on families,” she said, “and we’re working really hard on that. We really want the kids back in school.”

Peterson said the leak “does feel like a giant setback, but that’s all it is. We can recover from this.”

One piece of good luck, Peterson added, was that the damage was mostly limited to the building itself. People arrived soon after the leak was noticed and moved tech equipment and other valuable items out of the way of the water, Peterson said.

Matt Larkin, of Warren, a parent in the audience, said he was not surprised by the construction delays.

“A couple of weeks before school started, I went down there and, quite frankly, the place didn’t look ready for prime time,” Larkin said. “I kind of expected that the school wasn’t going to be able to open on time.”

Larkin asked how long the construction on the exterior of the school will continue, assuming there are no more unforeseen problems.

Peterson said the project should be complete by the end of September — the existing deadline for finishing the exterior.

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