Parents complain about three-day closure of Greenville High

Posted Nov. 02, 2011, at 8:31 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 04, 2011, at 1:35 p.m.

GREENVILLE — Students at Greenville High School should return to school Thursday after leaks in the school’s new heating system kept them home since Monday and forced younger pupils to attend Nickerson Elementary School since Tuesday, officials said.

“Every room will not have its regulated heat and capacity, but there will be enough for the school to open tomorrow,” Noel Wohlforth, member of the Greenville school consolidation committee, said Thursday.

Complications with the changeover from a steam system that burned No. 2 heating oil to a new pellet-burning hot-water boiler at the Oaks Building, by which the fifth-to-12th-grade school is also known, canceled classes for all students on Monday, for grades 7-12 on Tuesday and grades 9-12 on Wednesday, Union 60 Superintendent Beth Lorigan said.

Work crews have been working hard to fix the leaking pipes, Lorigan said. They first saw the leaks Saturday as the pellet boiler system was finished and TRANE Air Solutions began charging the plumbing with water, Lorigan said.

The leaks came from old steam-system pipes, not the new ones recently installed. Many old pipes were retained to save money, Wohlforth said.

Some parents and former town manager John Simko blamed Greenville School Committee members and TRANE for the delays and school officials for what they called insufficient communication with parents once problems were found.

Wohlforth and Lorigan said they felt that TRANE, school teachers and maintenance workers worked very hard and did the best anyone could in dealing with unforeseeable problems.

“I think that the timing to start the new heating system [installation] was incorrect,” said Vanessa Springer, parent of an eighth-grader at the high school and a first-grader at Nickerson, which normally houses pupils in grades K-4. “Starting in the beginning of September was not a good idea. You know you are going to come up with issues when you are renovating a building almost 100 years old, and the children are the ones being sacrificed.”

“It is a very poorly managed construction project,” said Simko, whose fifth-grade daughter attends school at the Oaks Building, “and that has resulted in the delay of the installation of the heating system that has resulted in this. There are several issues here. A lot of parents are really upset that we haven’t had any really good information on this [problem] since it started.”

Parents also objected to fifth- to eighth-graders being “shoehorned” into Nickerson during the emergency, Simko said.

“It’s very frustrating,” Simko said. Construction project delays are common, but “there has to be greater care or consideration given when children are involved and there doesn’t seem to be,” he said.

Wohlforth and Lorigan said the pupils went to Nickerson since Tuesday to limit the days they would have had to make up. Many delays that caused the project to start in September were caused by the arranging of the project’s financing, Lorigan said.

The school hasn’t had heat since September, Springer said.

“I don’t think that we are being told as taxpayers and as parents really what the situation is,” Springer said hours before the announcement that school would resume on Thursday. “I understand that issues will come up but are we looking at it going into next week? We haven’t been told that because I don’t think they really know. I think that being a little more informed by the administration would be a good thing.”

School leaders did what they could to keep parents informed, Lorigan said. The school’s principal used the schools’ all-call system to send three messages to parents just on Monday — two Monday night and once in the morning.

As many as 15 workmen attacked the leaks on Saturday after working all day Friday. A smaller crew was in on Sunday and school maintenance workers were also there for the weekend. Lorigan worked for most of the day Saturday and from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. dealing with the problem just on Monday, she said.

“I think it has been handled as well as possible,” Wohlforth said. “A national and well-known company [TRANE] was handling the project and they were seeing problems because the building was built in the 1930s. Things have come up that no one could have foreseen. It almost has been like a case of Murphy’s Law. It’s not anyone’s fault. You are dealing with an old building and an old system that we are trying to upgrade.”

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