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    Friday, May 24, 2024

    In Stonington, school board grappling with structural problems at middle school

    Stonington ― Structural issues and the presence of asbestos at the middle school have raised questions about how and where students in grades 6 through 8 will attend school next year.

    “The Stonington Board of Education's top priority remains the safety and education of our students,” Farouk Rajab, the board’s chairman, said Monday. “This has always been, and will continue to be, at the forefront of every decision we make.”

    Superintendent Mary Ann Butler said at a school board meeting Thursday that engineers who inspected the school found no immediate safety concerns.

    However, she said, they discovered a section of the second floor needs to be replaced and that a section of the first floor is sagging due to the weight of environmental systems and utilities. In addition, asbestos remediation is necessary, and foundation issues need further study.

    Butler laid out options for students next year, including continuing use of the Mistuxet Avenue school, which could mean a return to distance learning in September, and relocating to the old Pawcatuck Middle School on Field Street while either renovating the Mystic school as new or building a new school.

    Butler said the town’s building inspector and fire chief and an engineer with civil engineering firm Fuss and O’Neill inspected the middle school on April 19, April 23 and last Wednesday.

    An April 26, a Fuss and O’Neill report noted there were several vertical cracks in the northeastern foundation wall, numerous cracks on the underside of the slab and a buildup of white powdery deposits on the concrete, evidence of efflorescence, which occurs when water-soluble salts rise to the surface of concrete or other building materials and crystallize. It can be a sign of excessive moisture in the building’s concrete slab, potentially undermining its durability.

    According to the firm’s review of previous renovations, at least part of the original building and additions to it should be supported by bedrock, but the cracking indicates that the portion of the original building not on bedrock could be settling or moving due to excessive water underneath.

    The report states the amount of cracking, shifting and build-up of salt deposits is not typical, and that the condition of the slab is “concerning and should be addressed in the near future.”

    Anticipated work includes replacing the second-floor slab and excavation that will need to be completed before September. If the work is not completed in time or if additional issues arise, students may need to begin the school year in remote learning.

    Rajab, however, rejected that possibility.

    “One thing is certain: Our students will be attending school in person,” he said Monday. “The idea of distance learning was never seriously considered for implementation. It was simply a contingency plan in case repairs weren't completed by the upcoming school year.”

    The district estimated repair costs would be $753,250 in the short term and $12,938,500 in the long-term, including $1 million for foundation repair and $10 million for heating, ventilation and air conditioning work.

    The second option, Butler said, was to move students to the old Pawcatuck Middle School on Field Street and build a new middle school.

    Tim O’Brien, chairman of the finance board, said that was not an option from the town’s perspective.

    “We will support whatever the Board of Education deems is in the best interest of the kids and the safest interest of the kids,” O’Brien said Monday, but he was clear that a new school was not on the table right now.

    “For probably three years, we don’t have enough bonding capacity for what we anticipate would be the cost of a new middle school, and in talks that I have had with prior members of the K-12 Building Committee, there is not a good site that the town of Stonington owns right know where you could put one without us knowing what the state of the current Stonington Middle School is,” he said.

    The third option Butler described was identical to the second except it calls for renovating the Mystic school as new, instead of building new, with short-term costs of $2,503,776 and long-term costs of $11,918,500.

    Both options involving moving students to Pawcatuck would require finding a space to rent that would house the district office administration and staff, which would be displaced from Pawcatuck, some alterations to the Field Street building, and digitizing extensive school records.

    The school board is scheduled to meet again Wednesday at 7 p.m. to continue weighing the options on the issue.

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