NEWPORT, VT- The North Country Union High School facilities committee took a building tour with Jerry Davis of PeakCM and custodian Ron Chaffee, focusing on mechanical, electrical and plumbing issues that affect A and B wings of the school.
The committee's goal is to propose a renovation plan to the school board and, following approval, to market the plan to the community to obtain support and voter approval of the project.
Davis started his own construction management firm after working with Black River Design as the point man for the renovation of C wing, where the North Country Career Center is located.
Davis recommended hiring a construction manager who will ensure the process is carried out correctly, within state guidelines, and in the best interests of the school.
Referring to design and other work already completed by Black River Design, Davis stated, “Everyone is focusing on design, but you need to focus on the envelope (the building itself), and the mechanical, electrical and plumbing issues first. These are the priority issues along with upgrading space, which changes your mechanical and electrical needs for that area.”
A tour of the facility through different areas of the two wings of the high school revealed numerous problems including the presence of asbestos, 40 year old wiring and breakers, fire alarm systems that don't “talk to each other” and leave firemen uncertain of the origin of an alarm, inefficient windows that lead to higher heating costs, and cold rooms where the heating and ventilation systems don't work effectively.
Chaffee surprised Davis and committee members when he disclosed the presence of asbestos in the building. The asbestos was sprayed onto the steel beams and is safe as long as it is not disturbed.
“That's where the wheels fall off the bus,” said Davis. “We need to know what the issues are before we make a plan to fix it. Once we know what the problems are, we can get cost estimates.”
The former chair of the high school board and now chair of the facilities committee, June Rosenberg, noted, “We need a mechanical and electrical assessment of the facility, which will cost money, but it's worth it.... Some of the parts are so old we can't get replacement parts.”
The hour long tour revealed major problems that must be addressed, including fire marshal issues, lack of access to bathrooms for all students in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a lack of privacy in the nurse's office, inadequate space and infrastructure in the science labs, and an inefficient and antiquated heating and ventilation system.
At the advice of Davis, the committee will ask Black River Design (BRD) to send copies of the report they completed earlier this year, which includes a review of the MEP issues raised during the tour. Davis discouraged the committee from commissioning a new study until he is able to look at the report with Chaffee and Principal Bill Rivard to see if it covers all of the issues brought to the committee's attention.
“If there are any gaps, we will let you know and you can then ask the high school board to approve the funds to complete the work,” said Davis. “What we can focus on now is a two-prong approach: looking at our needs and then to talk to legislators to educate them about our funding needs.”
The committee agreed to set a meeting date of Dec. 4, at 6 p.m. at the high school and invite legislators to the meeting. An hour prior to the meeting, the committee will meet to discuss the results of the BRD report, which will enable the members to provide specific examples of the infrastructure problems the school faces and why funding is necessary to ensure a safe, comfortable work environment.