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Health Board Hears Laundry List of Lowell High Gripes

February 7, 2019

LOWELL -- A mouse scurrying across the floor of this Lowell High School classroom has become so common, the teacher named the rodent, according to Faith Salbasfregeau.

Salbasfregeau -- told this by her grandson who sits in that classroom -- shared the story with the Board of Health on Wednesday night.

“This might be a joke, but I take it very seriously,” the Lowell resident told the board.

Salbasfregeau was one of the roughly 25 concerned family members in attendance for the meeting. Complaints of rodent droppings and frigid classroom temperatures across the district, and how they are being addressed, were the focal point.

The concern expressed during the meeting was spelled out in almost six pages of complaints compiled by Paul Georges, president of the United Teachers of Lowell union.

The list is part of George’s push to place pressure on the city and the district to find short-term solutions to the ongoing problems in school buildings. In December he called the Massachusetts Department of Labor Standards, prompting a state probe, Georges said.

The Board of Health went through each complaint regarding the 27 district schools Wednesday night, and the maintenance and repairs to address each of those complaints.

City Manager Eileen Donoghue said the city and district are working aggressively to address issues and apply both short and long-term solutions. The district has repaired “virtually” all the problems listed, according to Donoghue.

The city manager pointed out there is a push for help through the MSBA Accelerated Replacement Program to address roof repairs at nine district schools and boilers at four. The average age of district boilers is 25 years old, while the average life expectancy of a boiler 15 to 20 years, Donoghue said.

“We are taking a very aggressive stance and we are applying for everything that we are eligible for,” she added.

Kristen Schultz, vice-president of the United Teachers of Lowell, referenced unacceptable temperatures in classrooms, and rodent and ventilation issues, when questioning what will be done for students and staff until the problems are fixed.

“To the Board of Health, my questions to you is do you think these are adequate conditions?” Schultz said. “Do you have an opinion on occupancy in these building? Especially the high school, that is in my opinion, a very unsafe place to be at times?”

Her question was met with applause from those in attendance.

Rick Underwood, director of operations and maintenance, said problems that are reported are addressed the same day.

“The building is not dangerous. It’s not unsafe,” Underwood said about the Lowell High. “There are some areas of concern, but to say that building is unable to educate children and that it is unsafe or dangerous, I disagree.

“To say we are neglecting the high school, or we’re neglecting what we’re supposed to do, I disagree with that,” he added. “I think we have lots of problems, but again, that’s why we are building a new school and that’s why we’re addressing these things.”

Board of Health member William Galvin reminded those in attendance that the board made a resolution that included the recommendation to close the high school a year ago. Galvin’s reminder was again met with a round of applause from the group.

“If any of you have a solution that in the next three months you can solve all these problems, happy to hear it, but there is none,” Galvin said. “So in defense of the city, in the last year, they took the 10 most critical things, in terms of health risks, and they addressed them the best they can, including the roofs. The idea that you can solve all these problems today or tomorrow is not going to happen. Your solution is the new building, which is years away.”

Jo-Ann Keegan, chair of the Board of Health, said for two years the board has raised concerns over the conditions of many of the district buildings.

“We are glad people are involved now and there’s support for what the board feels,” she told attendees. “We are on your side, but we can’t shutdown Lowell High and say we aren’t going to educate 4,000 kids for the rest of the year.”

Follow Aaron Curtis on Twitter @aselahcurtis

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