In light of the construction project at Weston Middle School, when it comes to being ready for the first day of school next Monday, one thing is for certain: It’s gonna be a squeaker.
“I have every expectation the school will open on time,” said Tom Landry, town administrator. But, he added, he also expects workers will be on job around the clock right up until Sunday night preparing for the first day of school Monday, Aug. 27. “It’s going to be a busy week,” Mr. Landry said.
Superintendent Colleen Palmer agreed. “We don’t see any major barriers to opening the school,” she said Monday.
But, she added, “we always have, as with any major construction project, a contingency plan.”
Before updating the school board Monday night on the project’s progress and that “just in case” contingency plan, Dr. Palmer stressed the fact that the building was on track to open on time and that it’s “all positive news.”
“There’s a lot of work happening behind those windows,” Dr. Palmer said.
Allen Swerdlowe, chairman of the Building Committee, which is overseeing the project, also agreed that chances are slim the school won’t open on time. While it’s an “extremely complex and interesting project” with a very tight time frame, he gives it “maybe a 1% chance — if that” that workers won’t make the Monday deadline.
Mr. Swerdlowe credits the contractor, Secondino and Son, with much of the success of the $2-million project, which includes replacing nearly all the exterior windows and doors in the school, as well as remediation of PCBs found in the caulking. “It’s rare to find a contractor to be so focused on doing the right thing,” Mr. Swerdlowe said.
First Selectman Gayle Weinstein also praised Secondino and Son. “They did more than even they originally thought was possible given such a shortened time frame” to complete the project, she said Monday. “They’ve done an excellent job.”
Ms. Weinstein said she was “warned from the get-go this is the kind of project that would look like a disaster until the last minute.”
But, she added, she, like other officials, is confident what may look like chaos has been actually been strictly controlled and well monitored and the middle school will open on time and it will all be worthwhile.
The most time-consuming aspect of the project is the testing required by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). After windows have been replaced and an area is cleaned, air quality samples have to be taken, then sent off site for testing. The area can only be declared clean and done when satisfactory test results are returned a few days later.
On the off chance there is a glitch, be it with the air quality testing or some unforeseen factor that delays opening the school, Dr. Palmer said that she did develop a contingency plan. If, on Friday, there needs to be a one- or two-day extension, middle school students would simply start the year a few days later than the rest of the school district.
A longer-term, “extended major delay” — one which Dr. Palmer said Monday the schools are “not even gearing up for,” at this point — the thought was the middle school students would go to classes temporarily in the other schools: eighth graders at the high school, sixth graders at the intermediate school, and seventh graders at Hurlbutt Elementary School.
Mr. Landry said that while the middle school will almost certainly open on time, he also expects work will need to continue there for at least another few weeks after students and teachers return.
One of the reasons the school looks like such a major construction zone, Mr. Landry said, is there are other projects going on there in addition to the window and door replacement. These include a wetlands mitigation project behind the middle school, major renovation to the middle school library, and some smaller projects the school has taken on inside the building, such as some classroom and furniture painting.
The loud and messy part of the wetlands mitigation project — lots of soil removal and regrading of the area behind the school to improve drainage — was expected to be completed this week, Mr. Landry said. A second phase — planting more than 1,000 shrubs, bushes, and grasses — is supposed to take place in late September and early October.
The library renovation is not expected to be completed until sometime in October. Dr. Palmer said all of the media center’s resources will still available to students in their individual classrooms, but the space will be unavailable for the first month or so of school.
But, she predicted, it will be well worth the wait. “It’s going to be beautiful and it will better serve the students,” she said.
Mr. Swerdlowe, Mr. Landry, Dr. Palmer, and even the first selectman all pointed out that painting the middle school — both the inside that the schools are taking on separately, and the outside that is part of the larger renovation project — is long overdue.
The middle school was built in the 1960s and an addition was constructed in the 1970s. “During the 70s, bright orange and apple green were very popular colors,” Dr. Palmer said.
Most of the classrooms are being repainted using more neutral earth tones to match the new window trim, she said.
The outside painting is being done to cover some red encapsulation paint that was required as part of the PCB remediation. All the red parts will eventually be dark brown, Dr. Palmer said, and it’s likely the most public portions of the building — the front, as seen from the road — will be done first.
Mr. Landry said there are also a few concrete pads by new doors that will need to be resurfaced and some exterior cleanup that will likely happen over the next few weeks. But, he pointed out, it’s more cosmetic in nature and should not impact the normal operation of the middle school.
“There’s still probably going to be a fair amount of work going on there for a few weeks, but it’s my expectation school will open on time,” Mr. Landry said.
First Selectman Weinstein described the large new windows that open fully to allow a lot of fresh air into the classrooms as “beautiful.”
Even though it’s been hard for teachers and administrators to have to stay out of the building all summer, “when they see those beautiful windows and the improved air quality, everyone will see it was definitely worth it,” Ms. Weinstein said.