By Ann Needle
The Nashoba School District could be responsible for thousands of dollars in unexpected building repairs, and at its June 29 meeting, the Nashoba School Committee began tackling how to sort out what is owed and how to pay for it. To help grapple with these issues, the SC voted to add meeting time to its already-scheduled July 6 Collective Bargaining Workshop.
Facilities Issues Discovered
At the June 29 meeting, Interim Superintendent Dr. Curtis Bates, closing in on what was to be his final day at Nashoba on June 30, began his announcement of the tangle of surprise building issues by drily declaring, “My last week has been uniquely changed.” He went on to describe several major building problems brought to his attention.
Wastewater Treatment at FSS/Emerson Schools
Bates said his investigation began after receiving a letter from the Town of Bolton on May 24. He explained that the letter, issued by the Dept. of Environmental Protection and dated May 19, stated that some of the equipment running the wastewater treatment system for the Florence Sawyer and Emerson schools was not working consistently. Bates said he discovered the system pumps and mixers have been failing from time to time since 2008. Bolton Town Administrator Donald Lowe added that these malfunctions have caused sewerage backups in the schools.
Nashoba Facilities Department member Dom Esposito said the best fix for the situation would be replacing the pumps. Bates put the very rough cost estimate of this move at $68,000, though the question came up of whether WhiteWater, Inc., which installed and maintains the equipment, should take on the cost of any replacement materials. Lowe added that Bolton has a stake in the project, given it uses and supports about 15% of the system.
Underground Oil Tanks
The second issue Bates detailed was five underground oil tanks throughout the district that have been found to have faulty equipment; two at FSS, the others at Emerson, Lancaster’s Mary Rowlandson Elementary School, and Nashoba Regional High School. He noted he did not see any evidence the tanks were inspected on a regular basis. Esposito said the probe for the FSS tanks was malfunctioning, but the age of the tanks may mean replacing the entire system.
Fire Pump at NRHS
The next surprise was the fire pump at NRHS, with rusting brackets grounding it and a tendency to spray water around the pump room — and the nearby electrical panel — when the sprinkler system goes on (so far, only during tests), Esposito said. “When that pump goes on, you don’t want to be in that room.” Esposito stressed any work must be done before students return to school because he needs to shut the pump off for repairs that could take more than a week.
Water Heater at NRHS
Addressing the fourth facilities issue Bates brought up, Esposito described how one of the 300-gallon water heaters fueling the boys’ locker room showers at the high school was found to be leaking. This tank subsequently needed to be condemned, leaving one tank — the least reliable of the two — to heat the water for 35 showers. He added that this is difficult to accomplish, given the school shower water must legally be able to reach 120-degrees. Repairing the remaining tank would cost about $15,500, though Esposito strongly recommended replacing it, at about twice the cost.
Lead Paint at Emerson School
As these troubles surfaced, the district began researching what else needs to be addressed — and found lead paint in samples taken from Emerson, according to Esposito. He said the primary issue was leaded paint found in the outer portions of the windows in two of the downstairs classrooms. Lowe commented, “Preliminary reports do not show any high-risk areas, but they do show some moderate-risk areas.” (The Town of Bolton owns the Emerson building, leasing it to Nashoba.)
Troubleshooting the Future
Esposito reported that he emailed his boss, former Director of Facilities Bill Cleary, about most of these problems several times over the past few years. (Cleary resigned and left the district in May.) Esposito said the director knew about the high school water tank in April, while Lowe said the director was told of the FSS wastewater troubles back in March. Esposito noted that he was told by Cleary that the problems would be addressed at some point.
“I have to ask the School Committee, where’s the oversight?” Lowe asserted. Given the same Facilities director and assistant superintendent (who the director reported to) were in place for several years until recently, Lowe declared, “To not have this work done is outrageous.”
As Esposito pledged to keep working on up-to-date quotes for repairs and replacements, along with plans for getting the work done, attention turned to how it would all be funded.
Lowe said that in 2013, the Town of Bolton approved the funding of $12,000 in capital repairs for the town’s schools, which was never spent, and portions of some of this new work might qualify for the money. Otherwise, he said, “If the money isn’t going to be used, it needs to be returned to the town.”
July 6 Update
At the July 6 SC meeting, new Superintendent Brooke Clenchy — who started her job July 1 — offered an update on some of the issues covered on June 29. Concerning the oil tanks, she said that as urgent as the situation is, the new director of facilities will be on board in three weeks and working on the issue immediately.
But the fire pump at NRHS probably requires a shutdown, so Clenchy noted that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. She said the quote on repairing the pump came in at $7,200.
As for the FSS wastewater system, Clenchy said that, after discussions with WhiteWater, Curtis Bates reported the company recommended an upgrade rather than a replacement, “because a replacement does not come with a guarantee.”
Finally, Nashoba is still waiting on a final report regarding how much lead paint is in Emerson, Clenchy said. She stressed, “We can’t ignore this.”
Along with Clenchy, SC Chair Lorraine Romasco of Bolton recommended putting together an ad hoc committee to help address the repairs. At Romasco’s suggestion, SC Bolton Rep. Neal Darcy and Rep. Lynn Romasco of Stow both agreed to join this committee.
“There is a piece of me that doesn’t understand how we are in this position right now,” given each issue is a major project, Clenchy observed. But, “We have no choice, and we will deal with it in an appropriate fashion.”
Note: The June 29 and July 6 School Committee meetings also covered a number of other high-profile topics, and the Independent will report on these in its July 22 issue.