Pipe failure affects pre-K program at former Clough school

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The Rome school district’s pre-K program in the former Clough school building at 409 Bell Road faces impacts from a pipe failure that requires repairs, Superintendent Peter C. Blake told the Board of Education Thursday night.

The district has met with pre-K staff from the site regarding a change to working from home, Blake told the board. Most of the school district’s staff members overall have been at work in school buildings for the currently remote instruction of students which is due to COVID-19.

Blake said today the pre-K staff is “going to work from the building until repairs begin and our internal temperatures are below 65” degrees. Boilers have been shut off in conjunction with the project, affecting heating, the board was told.

In addition, student therapies and screenings that have been done in-person at the location will continue in other buildings, and the pre-K program will be working with families affected, Blake told the board.

Meanwhile, district central office staff members in a separate part of the 409 Bell Road building will remain on-site for now and should be alright as long as a major chilly season does not develop, Blake said. He explained the district should not have to vacate the building totally, because the work will involve a “small contained area.”

Regarding how many pre-K staffers could be working from home, Blake said Friday “there are about 20 pre-K staff in total.” When asked whether any supported learning pre-K students had been at the site for in-person instruction, he said “we do not have any students in-person for pre-K right now.”

The district on Sept. 14 began the 2020-21 academic year on an all-remote basis for general education, while 127 students in the district’s supported learning program began receiving in-person instruction.

The situation at the former Clough school building stems from a pipe failure near the main entrance for the district’s early childhood/pre-K program, the board was told by district Director of Facilities Alex Rodriguez. He added the district will “have to do some abatement to get to the pipe in order to fix it.”

Noting that boilers have been shut off, Rodriguez commented “thank goodness we’ve had some decent temperatures and we were able to keep the temps in the building up.” He said paperwork is still in early stages and once it is approved for the project, “from that point on, pending good air samples, we should look about two weeks” and “we’re pushing it along as quickly as possible;” the district will “have to talk to SED (state Education Department),” he also said. Board President Paul Hagerty later asked whether the air samples were in reference to testing for airborne asbestos. Rodriguez emphasized it was for potential airborne asbestos, adding “generally...it stays in the containment zone.”

Board member Joseph Mellace asked about “costs...associated with the pipe rehabilitation....” Rodriguez said it would be roughly $30,000-$40,000. Mellace asked if the project potentially could be covered under energy-performance contract work currently being done on district facilities, but Rodriguez said “no...because it’s an emergency, because there’s no heat” and repairs cannot wait.

The district is in contact with SED about formally classifying it as an emergency project which could help for state financial aid, said Assistant Superintendent for Operations and Management Robert Mezza Jr. But that option could “stretch out longer how long the building would need to be closed,” he added.

When board Vice President Tanya Davis asked about the project time frame, Rodriguez said “I’m hoping...we get this resolved way before any threat of a hard freeze” which could “freeze our pipes.” He said it is hard to say definitively how long the project could take, which could include variables regarding testing and air samples.

In the portion of the building for the district’s central office, Blake said most people are prepared regarding staying on-site at this point. He cited several small space heaters available, and “if we don’t get into the deep freeze season, we’re prepared to struggle through whatever chilly temperatures we might have.” He also said “as far as pre-K...we have addressed that..unless this prolongs for many more weeks” than what Rodriguez is recommending.

The school district overall is reviewing possibilities for students in pre-K to grade 2 to resume in-person instruction in schools on Oct. 13, and for grades 3-12 to return to schools on Oct. 26.

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