Floods prompt questions on school maintenance
GREENWICH — A faucet in October, a gasket in November, and a pipe coupling in December.
The leaks and floods at Cos Cob School and Greenwich High School have some officials concerned about whether the school board has a handle on routine maintenance at its buildings.
On Wednesday night, the $46 million Performing Arts Center at GHS experienced its first major equipment — just three years after it opened. A vibrating isolator, a part that holds two pipes together and muffles the sound of vibrations, broke and caused the building to flood.
“This project has had difficulties since birth, and it’s troubling that now the building is reaching its childhood years and there are these kinds of problems,” board member Peter Sherr said. “It’s particularly troubling because the building was built at such a marquee price by a marquee builder.”
The leak started around 6 p.m. — right before an orchestra concert and during a parent presentation for Innovation Lab — and a work crew responded quickly, MISA committee chair Joseph L. Ross said. The water covered the galleria floor, seeped into the gym and ran down toward the dressing rooms.
All performances at the PAC — organized by the school or by private groups — will be relocated or rescheduled for the next six to eight weeks. And all Cardinals home basketball games will be relocated or rescheduled for “the next several weeks” because access to the gym will be limited to classes and some practices.
The back of the performance center sustained damage, and the entrance is blocked for repairs. Facilities staff is determining the extent of the damage and starting to work with contractors to make repairs.
The project known as MISA — music instructional space and auditorium — has been controversial since it began in 2011. During that time, the price tag jumped from $29 million to over $46 million.
But there is good news in this situation, Ross said. The administration is hiring a project manager, and the 2019-20 capital budget requests include a number of maintenance projects for the schools.
A recent report from KG&D architects, which evaluated every building in the school district, said the town does not spend enough money on maintaining the buildings, Sherr said. The town has a pattern of allowing its buildings to deteriorate to such a level that they need to be torn down, he said, referencing the report.
“We don’t have a sense of urgency about this stuff,” Sherr said of school maintenance. “We say what we need to do, we don’t do it quickly enough.”
BET member Michael Mason was chairman of the BET when the MISA project was approved and funded. The discussion about school facilities is an urgent one that Mason said would likely continue throughout the budget process, which is set to begin in January with the presentation of the 2019-20 budget.
“I think this should lead into questioning maintenance,” Mason said. “I’m sure that these questions should and will be raised. There has to be a discussion on what’s happening here. This damage is taking place in newly built parts of the school.”
The school facilities have had a “rough fall,” said Kim Blank, Education Committee chair for the Representative Town Meeting. Blank referenced a major flood at Cos Cob School that closed the school for a week in October and caused a massive relocation effort, as well as a leak that caused 7 feet of water to collect in the mechanical room at GHS in November.
At Cos Cob School, a faucet caused a geyser of water to flood the school, damaging 10 classrooms, the art room, the media center and the library on the first and second floors. Those two floors of the school are slated to reopen to children on Jan. 2. In the meantime, kindergartners have been relocated to Parkway and first- and second-graders are at Old Greenwich School while repair work is completed.
The town scrambled to appropriate nearly $2 million to cover the costs of cleaning up the building, relocating the students and rebuilding damaged areas.
A recent report indicated elevated mold spore counts at the site, in an area that was separated from the students and staff, said Kim Eves, the Greenwich Public Schools’ communications director.
After the area was cleaned and ventilated, new air quality testing was conducted, and repeat air sampling recorded very low spore counts, Eves said.
On Nov. 15, the mechanical room in the basement of the science building at GHS flooded due to a broken gasket. The one drain in the room could not handle the volume of water, which rose to 7 feet and had to be pumped out. The science building currently has no hot water or pressurized air for its classroom labs, but a temporary sewage ejection system is in place.
The school district has requested a $217,000 appropriation to cover the costs of draining the area, making temporary connections and repairs to the systems, paying overtime for the staff who responded to the flood, and completing all future repairs, including replacing the heat exchanger, the compressed air system used for the science labs and the sewage system.
The facilities staff is monitoring the mechanical room for potential mold growth as well.
“I’m confident that they are working hard to repair things quickly and minimize disruption for students and families,” Blank said. “I hope the BOE will review whether it has adequate tools to monitor maintenance schedules and expect that they will explore all avenues to minimize cost to the town by looking at insurance or what items may still be warrantied.”
Staff Writer Ken Borsuk contributed to this story.