School roof will get a temporary fix

MONT VERNON – During a two-hour emergency meeting Saturday morning, the School Board voted unanimously to approve spending about $15,000 of town money to temporarily fix the leaky roof that has shut down Mont Vernon Village School since Tuesday.

Several leaks in the roof of the school, which houses kindergarten through sixth grade, caused administrators to shut down the building until Jan. 5.

Snow from the previous weekend’s storm had melted and then refroze at the edges to form ice dams, which then trapped water on the roof. Lacking a drain, the water seeped through the roof and leaked to ceilings throughout the school with the exception of the cafeteria/gym and a 3-year-old wing that houses computer and sixth-grade classes.

The leaks caused ceiling tiles to collapse and led to Saturday’s meeting, where about 30 concerned parents gathered in the school library with coffee mugs and notebooks in hand.

This roofing emergency coincided with the delivery of a school building performance study by Concord-based architects Jordan & Barker.

“One of those things in (the) report was ‘you need to replace your roof,’ ” School Board Vice Chairman Peter King said. “We know we have a problem with heat in the attic. The snow load code changed last year. So, instead of (supporting) 45 pounds per square foot, (new roofs) now have to support 75 pounds per square foot.

“That does not mean the roof’s in danger of collapse. It means, now that we’re at this point, it makes sense to go in and look at the structure.”

In response to questions about why the roof, which has a history of leaking, wasn’t looked at sooner, King said, “It would have made no sense to replace the roof last year, just to find out that we have a problem with our trusses (not meeting code). It’s a whole system that needs to be worked on, not just a roof.

“We were torn about whether we should have done this last year, but we didn’t want to just throw a roof on. There’s no way we can get quality work done at this time of year, so that’s why we need a short-term solution.”That short-term solution will be a 38,000-square-foot industrial-strength tarp custom-fit to cover the roof until the roof can be replaced. Building and Grounds Director Jim Rines estimated the tarp and installation would cost the town about $15,000.

Because the town does not build emergency funding into its budget, the expense will drive the current year’s budget into a deficit.

“Typically, we never have a reserve,” King said. “We have gone into deficit before (for emergency situations) and the town has been very supportive.”

Parents who attended expressed concerns ranging from questions on the effectiveness of a tarp to worries about kids missing too many days of school.

The snowstorm procedure had been to have a crew shovel snow 12 feet up from the edges of the roof, which damaged the shingles and cost the town $1,000 per job. Parents asked if the board expected to not have to shovel once a tarp was in place.

“I think we are going to have to go up there and deal with some of that snow,” resident Lucien Soucy said. “Winter just started and we’ve already gotten 3 feet.”

“The snow will build up before it slides off,” said Carol Fortin, president of the Mont Vernon Village School PTA. “I want to know what safety concerns that presents for my children.”

Board members said they didn’t believe shoveling would have to be done, with the purpose of the tarp being to prevent snow buildup in the first place. However, the board members said they would consult experts on the issue to determine whether additional measures, such as cordoning off certain areas around the school, would be necessary.

Concerning the four days students have already missed because of the leaky roof, school Superintendent Michael Ananis said 10 extra days are built into the year’s schedule to allow the school to meet the state’s 180-day requirement.

Ananis also said emergency waivers have been requested in the past for situations that prohibited meeting the requirement.

The board has already fielded some suggestions that might reduce the cost of the tarp project. Jim O’Mara of the Amherst School Board recommended Mont Vernon use members of the Hillsborough County Department of Corrections community service program to provide the labor, which could make up more than $1,000 of the project’s total cost. Amherst has used the program successfully in the past, and there would be no cost to Mont Vernon for the labor.

“They’d be insured and they would do it during non-school hours when the kids weren’t around,” Mont Vernon board member Bill O’Brien said.

However, some residents weren’t overjoyed at the thought of using people serving jail time to service their school.

“If we’re going to be putting up a $15,000 tarp, I’d rather not see the county workers up there,” resident Dave Bellamy said. “They are good guys and they do good work, but . . .”

Considering the town doesn’t have the $15,000 on tap and that the school operates on a tight budget, O’Brien said, “I’d rather save that money to buy more books for the kids.”

The board also assured parents that the tarp would be in place in time for the students’ return from vacation.

The tarp crew “has told us it takes three days from the time we say go,” King said. “Now, whether that’s realistic or not . . . we have two weeks. I don’t think the kids are coming back unless the roof is fixed.”

Any wet insulation, wood, floors or ceiling tiles had already been cleaned and dried or would be in the coming two weeks, the board members said. Efforts also have been under way to improve ventilation and replace carpeting with floor tiles to allay problems with mold.

The board is expecting three bids from roofing companies to estimate the cost of replacing the roof with metal or asphalt. Once the board members have an idea of the actual price of the project, they will look into drafting a warrant article for voters at Town Meeting in March.

The good news for the town is that the replacement qualifies for state building aid funds. The bad news is that replacing the roof could cost the town around $500,000, according to Ananis. State aid could cover up to 30 percent of that cost, bringing it down to about $350,000.

The board plans to mail letters to parents over the holiday break to keep them updated about the school’s situation.

“The board and administration is 100 percent behind getting this done,” King said.