EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

August 29, 2013

Salem schools gear up for year of construction

Schools are in session, with major construction ahead

By Doug Ireland

---- — SALEM — There was no carpet on some of the floors — only concrete — but that didn’t bother students and staff on the first day of classes yesterday at Fisk and Soule elementary schools.

While students were enjoying their summer vacation, construction crews were busy removing potentially hazardous asbestos floor tiles from the two schools. That work, which required sealing off the buildings, wrapped up two weeks ago, Superintendent Michael Delahanty said.

When the children and teachers returned to class, they didn’t seem to mind the industrial-like appearance of their school, Delahanty said, calling it a successful first day. Heavy equipment will take over the school grounds in two weeks, he said.

“I am not happy with the concrete, but for a year, we can live with it,” Delahanty said. “The parents who came in today were understanding.”

It’s the first of many changes they will see at their schools over the next year. Those changes will be outlined by Delahanty and school and construction officials at a public forum tonight at Soule School. The forum starts at 6:30 p.m.

“There are going to be some inconveniences,” Soule principal Anna Parrill said. “The main thing is they will hear about the safety procedures and protocols in place.”

The two schools, both more than half a century old, will receive a complete makeover as the district undertakes more than $16 million in renovations. The work includes additions and improve security, sprinkler, heating and ventilation systems.

But at this time next year, the renovations will be complete. Parents have said the work at the outdated schools is long overdue.

“The end game is such a beautiful building,” Parrill said. “It’s going to be great.”

District protocols include fingerprinting all construction workers at the schools and making sure the work doesn’t compromise safety or security, she said.

A third building, Haigh School, will see $369,000 in work over the next year. The district’s three other elementary schools were renovated a few years ago.

Plans are now in the works for a $75 million overhaul of Salem High School and its Center for Career and Technical Education. A proposal could go before voters as early as March.

Once those projects are complete, the district intends to renovate Woodbury School.

But tonight, the school district’s focus is keeping parents and their children informed about the changes to expect this year, while alleviating any concerns about safety in a virtual construction zone.

Excavators will arrive in mid-September and sections of the schools will be closed off while construction takes place, Delahanty said.

They will be shifted from one part of the school to another. Several classes will be taught in the gymnasiums, he said.

“We will move kids and staff around,” he said.

New additions at both school will be under construction until about March, Delahanty said. Once those are complete, the work will shift to the rest of the school, he said.

“Areas will be cordoned off next to the construction zone,” he said. “Kids will be moved into the new facility once it’s constructed.”

In some places where the floor tiles were removed, including reading areas, rugs were put down to cover up the concrete, Delahanty said.

Delahanty, Fisk principal George Murray and Parrill said there have been no major concerns about the projects, just some questions. Parents saw the bare floors when dropping off their children yesterday, they said.

“They supported the (school renovation) bond and are ready for the construction to start,” Murray said. “Kids will be safe and learning will be taking place.”

He said they are prepared to cope with a year’s worth of construction

“It will cause some challenges,” Murray said. “We have a good plan in place.”