School Facilities Report Raises Lots of Questions at School Board Meeting:
Angry School Committee Finds Lack of Communication on Several Fronts
Riverside Middle School Fire Doors - Delays Irk Committee / Duct Tape and Glue at Hennessey School ?
School superintendent Kim Mercer gave the school committee a report on school buildings that wasn’t causing many on the committee or in the audience to rejoice. At times the meeting could have adopted a famous line from the 1967 movie ‘Cool Hand Luke”, as in ‘…what we have here, is failure to communicate…” Mercer indicated that all building inspections for asbestos had been completed without much worry. “As I get these report results I will immediately send them to the schools,” said Mercer. “Hennessey has their report, I think they received it two hours after I did. There was a small repair needed and it’s being done now,” she said. As the discussion ensued it became evident that there are still many facility items that have not been completed as school officials were promised. Most of the problems seemed to center around projects at Waddington and Riverside Middle (RMS) Schools and Hennessey School. There are still some unfinished projects at the high school and Whiteknact. “We have work scheduled on the bike path between Riverside Middle and the riverside recreation field complex. We’ll be paving that area. We are also replacing the handicapped ramp walkway and a lift at RMS and handicapped accessibility at a Waddington bathroom,” said Mercer. However the committee asked a litany of questions concerned with the many delays in these projects. Many of the complaints were centered on Waddington School, RMS and broken fire doors and a group of Hennessey School parents also addressed the committee. “We were told to eliminate the use of duct tape to hold down loose tiles,” said Ferreira. “We should use an epoxy adhesive, not duct tape. There are different products out there to use instead of duct tape,” continued Tony Ferreira. Hennessey parent Nicole Ferreira told the committee that she and others are “concerned with issues of air quality, asbestos and the appearance of duct tape around the school. The roof is leaking and we are looking to get these issues addressed,” said Mrs. Ferreira. Ferreira was further concerned with technology needs of the building. “We got 30 iPads which are sitting in a closet, unused because the school doesn’t have required bandwidth or wireless capability. We just want the best environment for our school,” said Ferreira who was also joined by other Hennessey parents.
Joel Monteiro, city-at-large member was very agitated at the lack of handicapped lift projects at Waddington and Riverside Middle. “What happened with this? After the bids we were supposed to get a fire marshal signature. It didn’t happen. There was a major breakdown in communication and I have asked about it for weeks,” said Monteiro. “I still don’t have an answer. I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus, but I’m still wanting to know who is accountable, whose job is it that caused this breakdown in communication,” pressed Monteiro. Superintendent Mercer did not offer any specific answers to Monteiro’s inquiry. “I really don’t know what happened,” said Mercer who appeared to not want to place blame for the breakdown in the process on the RMS fire doors or other delayed projects. “I have no comfort level with this yet. I’m still asking who and where in the process did this fail. I’m asking and not getting an answer. Is it purchasing, the bid itself?” he continued to ask. “Charlie, we have to figure this out,” Tony Ferreira told new Chairman Charles Tsonos. “I’m not here to beat up on anybody but at some point people need a beating,” added Ferreira to a few chuckles in the sparse audience. “If I don’t get what I want I’m going to the press every week. We were told a lot of things were going to get done, 99%. But some shop drawing (plans) aren’t done, we’re talking months away,” said Ferreira, voice rising. “I’m getting real heated now, I have serious issues. I’m not sitting here going through what I did the last two years,” added Ferreira. At that point Ferreira asked school system attorney, Robert Silva to address the board. “Legally how can we get this information, do we need to put it on the agenda some way? How can we make these contractors and others do what they say they will,” Ferreira asked the attorney. Silva told Ferreira and the committee that “this is a matter of communication, not legalities. It isn’t about laws; there should be a common courtesy to expect a method to get your answers. The committee and administration needs communication, not laws,” added Silva. “The process should be that you (committee) address your questions to the Superintendent and it is her job to get information to you,” said Attorney Silva.
“Part of our frustration is that we get an answer of we don’t know or we don’t have it,” interjected Tsonos. “In some cases these delays are from some at city hall in which we have no control over. The city controls the bidding process. There is a lack of replies or slow response,” added Tsonos. “I agree,” chimed in Jessica Beauchaine very assertively. “Since I’ve been elected 90% of my email (complaints) are about the unfinished safety doors in Riverside. We need accountability. I know who I fire and hire and it’s the Superintendent,” Beauchaine said. “Someone is responsible, I want answers. When I visit Waddington, ten teachers tell me about doors (problems). I want people accountable,” continued Beauchaine.
“Nobody knows what is going on. I’m taking it personal now,” said Tony Ferreira. “You need someone to watch these projects, like a project manager. You need to know,” said Robert Silva. In a shot at fellow board members and others, Ferreira said that during a final walk through to check progress on Waddington’s checklist of projects, “…nobody showed. A $3 or $4 million dollar project and no one else showed up to check. I want it all to end. I had a request in on the roof at Whiteknact School and haven’t heard. Today I found out there are 4 or 5 leaks there. Former council member Chrissy Rossi was in attendance and said she asked about Whiteknact’s roof at an earlier facilities meeting. “I was told there were no leaks,” she said. “Who knew that a $1 million job (Whiteknact roof) has been leaking for three months,” asked Ferreira. “I thought so,” was Ferreira’s answer when no one responded to his question. “Tonight we are voting partial payment to the companies involved in these projects. I’m not giving them a penny.” Member Nate Cahoon asked why the contractors were not present to explain the delays in these projects. “I would like them at the next meeting to discuss these items,” said Cahoon. On a motion by Tony Ferreira the committee voted unanimously to defer any further payments to one of the companies involved; Symmes, Maini & McKee Associates from Cambridge and Providence.