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School Capital Improvement Project Addresses Health and Safety Concerns

By Jann Wiswall

At a community informational meeting on February 12, Ellicottville Central Schools Superintendent Mark Ward made a PowerPoint presentation describing the goals and objectives of the capital improvement project. The presentation included photographs of various parts of the school buildings that were identified by a 2010 State Building Condition Survey as health and safety violations – primarily in areas built in 1962.

The photographs showed evidence of leaking roofs in the gymnasium and other parts of the building that date from 1962; cracked and broken masonry in numerous locations; inadequate electrical infrastructure in rooms built in 1962 (which only have two electrical outlets each. making it necessary to use extension cords, power strips and exposed wiring to run today’s educational tools); overcrowded rooms for the bands and chorus, and inaccessible restrooms and other areas for students and visitors with disabilities. In addition, Ward noted that the elementary wing has severe and worsening airflow and ventilation problems that could be hazardous to students’ and teachers’ health.

Ward explained that about 85 percent of the proposed Capital Improvement Project costs are related to these maintenance, health and safety/security concerns and that the remaining 15 percent – which includes adding a 100’ x 50’ addition to the back of the existing gymnasium – is the most practical and affordable way the architects found to create a multi-purpose gymnasium that meets the needs of 21st century schools and provides adequate locker and restroom facilities for students.

Nearly 40 people attended the meeting, including the Board, members of the 2009 strategic planning task force, teachers, principals and other interested community members. While most, if not all, in attendance were supporters of the plan, many expressed concerns that others in the community seem unaware of how critical most of these improvements and repairs actually are.

They also worried that people may not understand that state aid for the project, which will pay for roughly $6 million of the approximate $9.9 million cost, would not be available for general maintenance.

One teacher remarked that the “maintenance must be done whether the whole plan is done or not.” He said people don’t realize that if the project is not done as currently structured, the community likely will have to fund the huge maintenance bill without state help.

Another attendee noted that “you can only repair things for so long – at some point they have to be replaced.” He added that much of what this plan addresses are issues that protect the health and safety of our kids. “The ventilation issues in the elementary wing are health issues. Dangling extension cords are a safety issue.”

“We have to find a way to explain to the public why this has to happen this way,” he argued.

Elementary School Principal Connie Poulin added that at some point we’re just “throwing good money after bad” and that if money is to be spent, it should be spent thoughtfully in a way that “makes the space work for today.”

Ward thanked the audience for its feedback, saying he will work with SEI Design Group to better describe the substandard areas of the facility and the critical nature of the maintenance and improvement needs that are addressed. He also encouraged people to talk with friends, neighbors and others about the essential elements of the project that prompted development of the plan in the first place.

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