Asbestos, sprinklers needed for school

MERRIMACK – Removing asbestos tiles and installing a sprinkler system top the list of renovations needed to convert Mastricola Middle School to an upper elementary school.

The proposal for building the new middle school, scheduled to open next year, originally included $4 million for renovations to convert the current middle school into an upper elementary for grades 5 and 6. However, the money was later removed to lower the cost to $17.7 million; voters approved the bond for that amount last April during the annual School District Meeting.

School officials face how and when to complete the renovations. Those renovations were prioritized in a report presented to the School Board on Monday.

The asbestos work fell under the “urgent” category, Wayne Morrison, chairman of the Planning and Building Committee, told the board. Adding sprinklers fell under the “compulsory” category, meaning the lack of sprinklers constituted a code violation that has to be corrected, Morrison noted.

Other, less pressing items were categorized as “desirable.”

Asbestos is found in tiles and in the glue that holds the tiles to the floor in hallways and some classrooms, said Matthew Shevenell, the School District’s business administrator. The material is sealed and not friable, and therefore doesn’t pose an immediate health risk, Shevenell told the board.

Superintendent Marge Chiafery told the board that it might be too expensive to do both the asbestos and sprinkler work in the same year. Merrimack Fire Chief William Pepler, in response to an inquiry, told administrators they could hold off on the sprinklers as long as they “put it in writing” that the work would be done in 2005-06, Chiafery said.

“The sprinklers portion is the most expensive,” Chiafery said Tuesday in an interview. “You’re talking about hundreds of thousands (of dollars).”

Mastricola Elementary and Middle schools are the only schools in the district without sprinklers, Morrison said.

After hearing the report, School Board members asked Shevenell to come back with a cost estimate of the sprinkler and asbestos work for the board’s Dec. 15 meeting. The board also indicated it would not bond the renovations, but would prefer to fund them through a warrant article. Chiafery said school administrators would present a warrant article to the board to cover the renovations.

“As part of the budgetary process, we’ve already been investigating these projects,” she said. That article also would likely include renovations to make the building comply with the American with Disabilities Act.

“We’ve got to look at the cost to see what is affordable and reasonable,” she said. The School Board will be tack ling administrators’ proposed budgets in two workshops scheduled for Dec. 21 and Dec. 22. The board is scheduled to receive the budget Dec. 15.ling administrators’ proposed budgets in two workshops scheduled for Dec. 21 and Dec. 22. The board is scheduled to receive the budget Dec. 15.