|A caution banner stretched across the hallway and barrels positioned to catch water leaking from the ceiling denote the area inside the school building that has been closed to students attending Sally Mauro Elementary in Helper. District officials assured parents at a board of education meeting last Wednesday night that the building's integrity was intact, despite problems with the roof and the water seeping into the elementary school.|
Western Carbon County residents filled the meeting room at Carbon County School District last Wednesday evening to ask the board of education what was going to be done about a leaking roof at Sally Mauro Elementary in Helper.
After an hour and half of discussion, the answer to the question did not change from what the board's response had been at the beginning of the meeting.
Repairs or replacement of the roof will have to wait until next summer at Sally Mauro Elementary School.
The roof leaks that showed up in a few places last year, have grown to larger proportions.
Community members have been alarmed by the situation and have been concerned not only about how the leaks are affecting the educational process, but also if the situation is affecting indoor air quality with the possible growth of mold over time as well as the integrity of the structure.
At the present time, most of the signs of leakage at the school are confined to the west hallway area of the building and in the so-called "new" gym.
The water has leaked through in a number of areas damaging or destroying ceiling tile and requiring that the custodial staff place buckets and barrels under the leaks to keep the water from soaking carpets.
In addition, some vinyl tile in the gym has also been damaged by the incoming moisture.
Concerns have grown, especially for several parents of students attending Sally Mauro who feel the school board has ignored the problem.
On Wednesday, Alan Peterson, who represented the concerned parents, presented a series of questions about the situation and asked the board for the answers.
"It is a matter of safety, health and pride in the school that we present these questions to you,: pointed out Peterson. "We are concerned about the deterioration of the building and about the environment being unsuitable for education."
The questions Peterson presented came as no surprise to the district personnel or to the board.
In fact, the members of the Sally Mauro Parent Teacher Association had presented the questions in written form earlier to the administration and asked that they be answered.
The point of view of the parents in the letter accompanying the questions was that a hail storm that hit the area caused the damage last summer and that is the reason for the leakage this year.
Carbon County School District maintenance director Deon Kone explained that he wasn't sure the hail storm was the cause of the problem.
"The hail storm is the crux of the question," said Kone. "I don't think it was the cause."
The storm that hit last August caused thousands of dollars of damage to home roofs and vehicles in the area.
Insurance companies have awarded a significant amount of money to many Helper homeowners.
"There are many homes in the area that have new roofs because of it," stated the Helper Mayor Joe Bonacci who was in attendance at the board meeting. Bonacci is also a former principal of the elementary school.
Located approximately two blocks from the elementary school, Helper Junior High sustained no discernible damage to its roof, while houses around it had to have considerable repairs.
According to officials, Helper Junior High has the same kind of PVC roof that Sally Mauro School has.
"As soon as the leaking started, I called the manufacturer of the roof," stated Kone to the group. "It took them three weeks to send out an inspector. The manufacturer has right in their warranty contract that hail damage is an act of God and that their guarantee on the roof is not valid if it is what caused the problem."
The roof was installed at Sally Mauro in 1997, but has a 10 year warranty. Kone pointed out that the struggle now is to find out what exactly caused the problem.
"A lot of it is in state risk managements hands," said the maintenance supervisor. "They are soon going to get together and have a meeting down here to figure out what to do."
But while the wheels of state government, roofing manufacturers and insurance companies move slowly, the business of education does not.
Parents concerned about student safety voiced concerns and asked that something be done right away.
After the initial formal questions were answered, some parents were still frustrated about what could and should be done.
"I think the lack of communication about the roof problem led many of us to believe there was a lack of concern," said one parent after numerous people indicated that they felt the district had ignored the situation.
Kone pointed out that the roof had problems with leakage before the hail storm.
But the problems have become more pronounced this year because of the increased snow accumulation.
"We did some repairs on that roof last summer because there were a few leaks in it last year,"said the maintenance supervisor. "But last winter we really had very little moisture in Helper. There has been much more in that area this year and the accumulated snow on the roof has caused the prolonged problem."
That brought up a comment from the audience on why the district had been repairing the roof if it was on warranty.
Greg Brooks of Edwards and Daniels Architects, the company investigating the situation, was present at the board meeting and told the group that minor repairs are often part of keeping up the warranty. He also answered the residents who thought a new roof should be installed right away.
"This roofing material is on several schools in the area," noted Brooks. "I have gone up there and looked at the roof three times and it is hard to tell what has caused the problem. "
"The building design is unlike any other and there are many places where it could be leaking. To repair it right, we have to find out what has gone wrong. But it takes time to do these things," continued the company representative.
"Once we find out the situation, it will take a month to design a new roof and then some time to bid it out. It is at least two to three months down the road before it could even be started. Besides, doing these roofs anytime other than the summer creates some risks to the viability of installing a new roof," indicated Brooks.
But many parents at the board meeting were concerned that the district had failed to pay proper attention to the situation and the matter had gotten out of control.
"It has not just become a priority lately," stated superintendent David Armstrong. "It has been a priority all along. We had some plans to redo that roof this next year anyway."
The superintendent's statement brought questions from the audience about why the district would do that if the warranty was still in force.
"If you planned to do that anyway, you should have some documents to prove it. Shouldn't you?" asked audience member Bill Grant. "We would like to see those."
Armstrong indicated that he had no real documentation because the school district does not keep minutes on all of its meetings.
The school district's business manager, William Jewkes, pointed out that he had no budget documents on the items in question.
"You just have to trust me that we discussed it," said the superintendent.
Despite what had been done in the past, the majority of the parents at the meeting seem to be more concerned about the possibility of mold in the building affecting their children's health, about the integrity of the structure and how the problem had affected the students education.
The superintendent stated that he felt that mold would be of little concern at the current time of year because of the cold. But Armstrong agreed to see if testing for mold at the school could be done.
As for the actual structure of the building, state risk management officials have looked into that aspect at the elementary school.
The state officials have determined that there are no risks to the Sally Mauro students in terms of structural failure because of the leakage.
"They are much safer staying in that building than playing outside or riding to or from school," stated Kone.
Finally, the question of disruptions to the educational process at Sally Mauro surfaced at the meeting.
Responding to the matter, the superintendent outline several alternatives, which in his opinion, would be more disruptive to the educational process at the elementary school than the leaks.
"The whole thing is certainly an annoyance. But at this time, there is little we can do other than to close the school and have the kids attend classes this summer to make it up or hold double sessions somewhere else," said Armstrong. "That would be much more disruptive."
Board of education member Boyd Bell felt a little differently regarding the situation at Sally Mauro. But Bell agreed that not much could be done about the situation at the present time.
"This kind of thing does disturb the process of education," commented Bell toward the end of the discussion. "But replacement of the roof can only be done during the summer."
After an hour and a half of wrangling with the situation, board president Jim Leonard ended the discussion and moved on to further board business.
As with numerous issues, some parents at the meeting were satisfied and some were not. But the majority of the parents were primarily concerned about the educational impact of the leaking roof problem.
However, at the local level, according to Mike O'Shea, principal at Sally Mauro, she and the staff feel that things are being handled well.
"We had four empty classrooms and we had to move one kindergarten class out of their room and into one of the empty ones," explained the Sally Mauro principal on Thursday during a walk through at the building. "At this point, the disruption has really been minimal."