By Linda Conner Lambeck
WESTPORT – Neil Phillips was on the Board of Education in 2018 when Coleytown Middle School was closed due to mold infestation.
It was fitting that on his return to the board Monday night, his first motion was to formally accept the completion of the multi-year, $32-million project, which the board unanimously endorsed.
Following new concerns about leakage that were raised in the fall, however, it was only after assurances from Don O’Day, Coleytown Building Committee chair and newly elected Representative Town Meeting member for District 3, that the project was finally accepted.
Phillips called it a capstone.
“I voted to close the school … now I am taking it back,” he said.
“All leaks that were discussed by the board in November have been addressed,” O’Day said. “The aluminum hood that I promised would be added to a roof top unit to prevent windswept rain from entering the school has been installed.”
All necessary repairs related to the leaks have been completed, he said.
The acceptance was required in order to begin state reimbursement process. The town estimates the state’s share could reach $4 million.
The reimbursement process is expected to last for most of 2022 and possibly beyond. O’Day pledged to work with district officials to address any issues should they arise.
Supt. of Schools Thomas Scarice said the district was ready to take the building back months ago, before weather issues arose.
“At this point I am very comfortable,” he said.
On September 18, 2018, CMS was abruptly closed after dozens of students and staff members reported health issues later speculated to be due to mold.
Investigations found the building, built in 1965, to have a number of environmental issues plaguing it, including water infiltration through classroom windows, water damage under windows and structural issues, all of which compounded mold issues.
Students were relocated to Bedford Middle School and Staples High School for the remainder of the year while the BOE and town grappled with how to respond to the problem, appointing a committee that ultimately chose the $32-million renovation over a new construction that was estimated to cost upward of $70 million.
During that time, while the BOE grappled with overcrowding at BMS and numerous complaints and concerns voiced by parents, it also had numerous discussions about redistricting and whether it might consider changing CMS into a sixth-grade academy, among other things.
The onset of the pandemic in March, 2020, also added to delays.
For all intents and purposes the school was considered completely revamped this year, until it sprang leaks last fall after a couple of bad storms.
First Tropical Storm Ida in early September caused a water leak from a roof drain that was not properly tightened. Rain also blew into an HVAC unit, causing a water leak into ceiling tiles in the school’s main conference room.
No sooner were those problems fixed than additional leaks occurred during heavy rains on October 26.
O’Day told the board Monday night that the issue was an improperly sealed electrical conduit pipe that services one of the new HVAC units.
A building engineer was hired to conduct an infrared roof scan and it came up clean. Air quality tests were also conducted and no issues detected.
“Everything has been addressed”
“Everything has been addressed,” O’Day said. “We went above and beyond to make sure everything was fine.”
He said most of the components were under warranty.
Susan Chipouras, CMS project manager, is staying on the job for the next year, to oversee the reimbursement process.
O’Day said he also will continue to monitor the project.
BOE Chair Lee Goldstein, who was CMS PTA co-chair in 2018, called it a long, winding road to get to the finish line.
“The school is beautiful,” she said. “The people who work and learn in it are so happy to be there.”
Patra Kanchangom, past president of the CMS PTA, agreed it was a difficult few years but voiced appreciation to those involved.
“We knew we were in good hands,” she said. “It’s a beautiful space for children, teachers and staff to learn and grow together.”