CAES restoration may stretch into November First phase of work to begin Sunday, Sept. 23

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

As late as last Friday, Two Rivers Supervisory Union Superintendent Meg Powden was still hoping that Chester-Andover Elementary School students would be able to return to the school four to six weeks after water damage knocked out many of the building’s mechanical systems.

But at a Facilities Committee meeting just before Tuesday’s Green Mountain Unified School District board meeting, it quickly became obvious that the administration’s timetable was optimistic.

Engineer Naomi Johnson explains details of the water main replacement to board members and Superintendent Meg Powden. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Dufresne Group engineer Naomi Johnson presented the plans for replacing the school’s 4-inch water service with an 8-inch main and TRSU Business Manager Cheryl Hammond told the board that the sole bidder for the work – M&M Excavating – could begin work on Sunday and finish by Oct. 5. That would be the last day of the original six-week time frame. The M&M bid was $79,556, including the addition of electrical conduit that will be installed in case the school needs to upgrade from a 400 amp to a 600 amp service in the future.

The electrical system is another beast altogether. When the boiler room flooded on Aug. 24, two boilers, a hot water heater and three electrical distribution panels were destroyed. On Tuesday, it was revealed that flooding also compromised the underground wires from the main panels to seven subpanels throughout the school.

Doug Perry, a master electrician with HB Energy Solutions, told the meeting that replacing the panels and running new wires to the subpanels would take six weeks from the time the board gave the go-ahead and that the design for the work was still being reviewed by an electrical engineer. Perry said a second phase of work – replacing the seven subpanels that are original to the school – could be scheduled for the summer of 2019.

With a proposal expected on Monday Sept. 24, the board considered meeting  next Tuesday to approve the work, which would move the reconstruction out to Nov. 6 with still more work to be done before the school could reopen.

In the meantime, the entire elementary school is being hosted by Green Mountain High School.

According to Powden, CAES Facilities Director Jim Spaulding has been looking into replacement boilers. Spaulding told the board that while boilers could be moved into position, the installation could not be completed until the water and electric systems were working, adding to the Nov. 6 reopening date.

And, as the TV pitchman says, but wait, there’s more. The second leak undermined the slab beneath two classrooms at the south end of the school and the report of a structural engineer hired to evaluate the problem suggested that a fluid mortar could be used to fill the void and prevent the slab from cracking, before replacing the carpet in the classrooms.

The GMUSD board voted to accept the M&M Excavating bid with board chair Marilyn Mahusky’s query — “How do we pay for this?” — still hanging in the air.

‘How do we pay for this?’

Jordan Bergeron of the Vermont School Board Insurance Trust explains what is and is not covered by the school’s insurance policy

Representing the Vermont School Board Insurance Trust, which insures the school, Jordan Bergeron had good news and bad news. He told the board meeting that VSBIT would pay for the repairs and replacement of the systems damaged by water on a replacement cost basis. That includes the boilers, water heater, electrical panels, rewiring and the carpet in the flooded classrooms.

What is not included, is the water main replacement and the Phase Two upgrade to the electrical system. There is also a question about how much of the work to fix the undermined slab in flooded classrooms would be covered.

Chester resident Bill Dakin suggested that an insurance consultant be hired to advocate for the schools since, as the insurer, it’s in VSBIT’s interest to keep the payout as low as possible and there is no one representing the school district’s interests. Bergeron told the meeting that VSBIT is not an insurance company, but a member-owned pool representing 90 percent of the schools in Vermont. No decision was made on Dakin’s suggestion.

Bergeron told The Telegraph that VSBIT would not require a lengthy bidding process as long as the costs proposed by contractors were within a reasonable range for the work.

Hammond told the meeting that emergency school construction funds from the state would pay for 30 percent of the cost not covered by insurance up to $100,000. That would amount to around $25,500 on an $85,000 tab for the water line work (including the engineering.) Board members questioned where the money would come from, but in the end agreed that the work had to get under way and so approved it.

Clerk of the Works

CAES parent Jill Bruning suggests that a project manager is needed as Chris Meyer listens.

Several of those attending the meetings asked if it wouldn’t be wise to hire a project manager who could shepherd the work along. Jill Bruning, parent of a CAES first grader, urged Powden and the board to consider a  clerk of the works who would oversee the project on their behalf so the superintendent and elementary school principal could return to their jobs.

New board member Rick Alexander agreed, suggesting they reach out to contractors to find someone. State Rep. Tom Bock suggested that the Southern Windsor County Regional Planning Commission would have a list of people qualified to manage the project.

Powden said she was concerned about the cost of a project manager and confirmed with Bergeron that the insurance would not cover such an expense.

Powden said she would look into the cost of project management and the board made no decision on the issue.

Bruning also asked if there was any kind of emergency that was or could be declared to help move the project along. Powden said she had spoken with Secretary of Education Dan French about the situation before he was to attend a cabinet meeting with Gov. Phil Scott, but that she “didn’t think to ask” about an emergency.

“If they thought it rose to that level (the cabinet) would have said that,” said Powden.

Communications lacking, or not

Andover resident and CAES parent Chris Meyer said he felt that “communication was not as strong as many in the community would like it to be,” and that he hasn’t felt the “sense of urgency” from the school.

“The beating heart of our community is closed,” said Meyer. “Rumors spread because we haven’t gotten good answers in a timely manner.”

Mahusky countered by thanking Powden and CAES principal Katherine Fogg for “stepping up and dealing with the emergency.”

“I think the administration responded very appropriately by getting information to parents as soon as there was information to convey,” said Mahusky citing one press release, several emails to parents and some social media posts.

Powden said the administration would try to improve communications and work at being better.

Asked how the school would make up the lost five days, Powden told the meeting that she planned to ask the State Board of Education for a waiver for that time, which she hoped would be considered at the state board’s October meeting. An Agency of Education official told The Telegraph that the board looks at such requests with an eye toward how much time is left in the year to make up the lost days. In this case, there is an entire year ahead.

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  1. Susan Bourne says:

    Perhaps these folks could help find a clerk-of-the-works… Maybe even know of a clerk who needs community service hours or is willing to accept whole or partial in-kind payments. Worth asking.

    From their website: The most dependable way to be assured of getting what you pay for during construction is to have a clerk-of-the-works (owners’ field representative) present during all construction activities. This service conforms to duties, responsibilities and limitations set forth in AIA Document B352, architect’s field representative. VISCC will provide the degree of on-site supervision that is required to ensure quality control and conformance to plans and specifications. Cost savings realized from avoiding problems are often substantial. –VIS Construction Consultants

  2. Jill Bruning says:

    In addition to what was reported regarding a potential “emergency declaration”, I recall Meg Powden saying she would look into it more. It appeared to me that the Supervisory Union’s contact with the state occurred early on, before the enormity of the project, expense, and resulting logistical nightmare was realized.