AP NEWS

Repairs Will Send Half of Crocker Students to Other Schools

August 7, 2018

FITCHBURG -- When the school year starts on Aug. 30, Crocker Elementary School will reopen, but only half its students will return -- at least for now -- according to Superintendent Andre Ravenelle.

Burst steam pipes during a days-long cold snap led to the disruption of asbestos ceiling tiles, leaving the school shuttered since January and the student body continuing their studies at two different facilities: St. Anthony’s School in Fitchburg and T.C. Passios Elementary School in Lunenburg.

Students in kindergarten through second grade will return to Crocker, but third- and fourth-graders will study at St. Anthony’s when the school year begins, according to a letter Ravenelle sent home to parents last week.

Ravenelle said the older students might not return to Crocker Elementary School until after winter break, expanding what administrators initially hoped to be a several week disruption to a year.

Ravenelle said the delay should not come as a surprise. Even though teachers at both Passios and St. Anthony’s packed their classrooms at the end of the school year, in June Ravenelle announced any construction delays could result in some grades not returning to the building at the start of the school year.

This scenario unfolded as replacing heating and ventilation units took longer than expected this summer, he said.

“Anytime you do a renovation, whether it’s a kitchen or whatever, you’re really at the mercy of so many contractors,” Ravenelle said.

The younger students will study in the wing of the building not damaged during the winter weather, which has a separate HVAC system.

Aside from a $25,000 deductible, insurance through the Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association will completely cover the asbestos abatement, HVAC work and teaching material replacement, according to Ravenelle. It will also continue to pay for rent at St. Anthony’s School.

Ravenelle said the delay will not result in any extra costs for busing or food services.

He expects the HVAC system, which is original to the building, will be replaced before the end of the fall semester, but the district may delay moving students until January to minimize disruptions during the school year.

Mayor Stephen DiNatale, who is also the chair of the School Committee, said he hopes to avoid future problems by requiring staff to monitor the building during breaks and turning up the heating when the temperature dips.

“We’re putting into place measures that are going to prevent this kind of thing from happening once again,” he said.

Sub-zero temperatures this winter took a toll on buildings in Fitchburg and other school districts. In January, a burst-sprinkler head at Longsjo Middle School caused a two-day closure and pipes at Reingold Elementary School froze resulting in another cancellation.

The issues followed a fall semester peppered by calls on social media from parents and others to repair the Longsjo Middle School roof, which has persistently leaks for most of the past decade. In 2016, a study found the district needs between $117 million and $157 million in repairs.

A $1 million feasibility study through the Massachusetts School Building Authority will develop plans to rebuild or remodel Crocker Elementary School, including the possibility of replacing the elementary with a building for kindergarten through eighth grade. The city also borrowed $2 million to replace the Longsjo roof with new asphalt tiles this summer.

According to City Auditor Calvin Brooks, Fitchburg’s many insurance claims in the past year -- from payment for the burst steam pipe at Crocker Elementary School to the B.F. Brown fire to damage to the Crocker Field Concession Stand -- have increased its insurance rate by $250,000, as reflected in the fiscal year 2019 budget.

AP RADIO
Update hourly