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School Construction Stops in Unity

  • Forest Randall polishes floors at the new Unity Elementary School building under construction Tuesday. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Forest Randall polishes floors at the new Unity Elementary School building under construction Tuesday. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Unity’s former elementary school is being demolished, at right. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Unity’s former elementary school is being demolished, at right. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • The state fire marshal last week halted most construction of the new Unity Elementary School because of a discrepancy over the size of two classrooms and installation of windows that did not follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    The state fire marshal last week halted most construction of the new Unity Elementary School because of a discrepancy over the size of two classrooms and installation of windows that did not follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Forest Randall polishes floors at the new Unity Elementary School building under construction Tuesday. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Unity’s former elementary school is being demolished, at right. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • The state fire marshal last week halted most construction of the new Unity Elementary School because of a discrepancy over the size of two classrooms and installation of windows that did not follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

Unity — With construction halted last week on the new elementary school and the building not expected to be ready for students until the end of October at the earliest, the School Board approved a relocation plan last night that sends about 110 Unity students in grades K-8 to Claremont to start the school year.

Students in kindergarten through fifth grade would attend the city’s Disnard Elementary School.

Sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders would go to Claremont Middle School.

Meanwhile, Scott Vaughn, architect for the school project, explained to the School Board why the state Fire Marshal’s Office has halted most construction at the school and what’s being doing to resolve the problems. The work stoppage was ordered last Friday.

“My hope is that in four to six weeks we will be able to remobilize (subcontractors) and it will take four to six weeks after that to finish the job,” Vaughn told the three-member School Board.

A different design for the window installation and the size of two classrooms are at the center of the current work stoppage.

Vaughn said under the original building design, which the state Department of Education approved in writing, bathroom space was included to meet the minimum size requirement for two classrooms on the first floor.

However, the individual who signed off on the design is no longer at the department and a more recent opinion does not allow bathrooms to be included in the square-foot requirement.

“Whatever opinion was issued, we have a different opinion now,” said Vaughn.

Board Chairman Shawn Randall said the DOE has the prerogative of “changing their mind at any point.”

The school district has applied for a waiver to allow for the bathrooms to be counted, but if that is denied, Vaughn said he has done the design to add 45 square feet to each classroom. An anonymous donor has offered to cover materials and labor costs, School Board Chairman Shawn Randall said.

On the windows, Vaughn said he chose a different installation system than the one recommended by the manufacturer.

“Mine is an insulated window assembly versus a non-insulated one,” Vaughn said after the meeting. “It has better energy performance.”

Some materials are different, however, and for that reason, the state fire marshal wants to take a closer look, he said. Changing the classification of the building to one that allows for the different materials is one solution being explored. The other would be a letter from the window manufacturer approving Vaughn’s installation system.

Not all work has stopped. Demolition of the old school, grinding and polishing of the concrete floors in the new school as well as site work and the process of “fire stopping,” which is plugging and filling holes in walls and ceiling areas where wires and pipes run are continuing. Installing windows, putting up drywall and painting are the major pieces of the project left to do. Vaughn also said demolition of the old school should be completed by next week.

Assistant Superintendent Elaine Arbour explained the plan to send Unity students to Claremont.

Except for first-graders, Unity students will be in their own classrooms at both schools and special education services will be provided. Arbour said Disnard was chosen as the elementary school because it has the room and using one school instead of all three makes transportation from Unity easier and minimizes impact on the district. Arbour also said the Claremont School Board has approved the plan and the district’s staff has been notified.

“I have spoken with (principal) Melissa Lewis and Disnard staff is excited and is talking about ways to welcome Unity students,” Arbour said.

Two buses will transport students to Claremont.

The board will present the plan to the state Board of Education Thursday.

At next week’s Unity School Board meeting, Arbour said they will be available to field questions from parents about the process and the structure of the learning environment in Claremont. They also plan to hold at least one open house and perhaps more in Claremont for Unity students and parents.

She doesn’t anticipate the state Board of Education rejecting the relocation plan.

“I really don’t think they will have any specific concerns. They just look for violations of fire and safety and we don’t have anything like that,” Arbour said.

Voters passed a $4.7 million bond in August 2010 for a new school after the state ruled the existing school could not open because of fire and safety violations. Emergency repairs allowed the school to open the last three years, but Vaughn said the state would not allow the town to open this school year.

A series of delays, including additional site work because of water and a change in the design and size of the school, pushed up the cost and added months to the construction. In March, voters approved an additional $550,000 for the project to go along with a $200,000 donation.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com.