Students in Limbo as School Mold Remediation May Stretch to Late 2019

  • Prosper Valley kindergarten teacher Joe Boisvert tells a story to students in the school's outdoor classroom in South Pomfret, Vt., Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. Except for one afternoon in the outdoor classroom each week, the school has held classes at Woodstock Elementary due to a mold issue in its own building since the beginning of the academic year. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News photographs — James M. Patterson

  • Third grader Aven Westbrook, 8, rests during a mindfulness period at the end of the day in Prosper Valley School's outdoor classroom in South Pomfret, Vt., Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. The school has been holding classes at Woodstock Elementary School since the start of the academic year due to mold problems in the building. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to James M. Patterson

  • Following an afternoon in Prosper Valley School's outdoor classroom in South Pomfret, Vt., Friday, Oct. 26, 2018, students line up to take the bus back to Woodstock Elementary where classes are being held because of a mold problem in their own school. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/26/2018 11:58:57 PM
Modified: 10/26/2018 11:59:11 PM

Pomfret — Faced with new information indicating that Prosper Valley School’s mold problems will extend into late 2019, officials with the Windsor Central school district are considering whether to partially integrate classes from Prosper Valley and two other elementary schools in Woodstock.

Staff told board members of the Windsor Central Modified Unified Union School District earlier this month that an estimated $433,000 fix might — or might not — fully resolve the moisture issues that prevented the Prosper Valley building from opening this fall.

Much of the wetness is connected to the concrete slab the Prosper Valley school sits on, and the slab’s underlying fill, which documents show were the subject of a four-year dispute between the school and the contractors that in 1991 constructed the building on Pomfret Road in South Pomfret near the Woodstock border.

After consulting with a variety of engineers, Joe Rigoli, the district’s director of buildings and grounds, prepared a report that recommends a series of projects to improve damage, reduce frost and install a new barrier to prevent water from migrating through the concrete slab.

“There is no assurance that these steps will solve the moisture/mold issue in the building,” Rigoli wrote in his report, which was given to the board on Oct. 15. “If we are able to reduce the amount of water entering the building through the slab, keep excess water from the foundation/building walls, and manage the humidity levels, we should be able to eliminate growth of mold in the building.”

Any project that addresses the problems now is anticipated to be so costly that the district would seek funding from a bond vote, Prosper Valley Principal John Hansen wrote in a letter to the school community, which consists of the families of K-6 students from Pomfret and Bridgewater.

If that happens, the timeline for repairs is likely to extend into late 2019, or possibly even 2020.

“If district voters were to approve expenditures to repair the building, work could begin in July 2019,” Hansen wrote. “It is unknown how long this work would take and whether the building could be occupied sometime during next school year.”

The school name was changed from the Pomfret School to the Prosper Valley School in 2015, when it began serving students who previously had attended the Bridgewater Village School, which was closed at that time.

Over summer 2018, when August testing showed unhealthy amounts of mold in the air in the building, staff scrambled to bring the school’s 67 students into Woodstock Elementary School, which is part of the same district and which teaches 206 students just 2.5 miles away.

For the past two months, the schools have operated as largely separate entities under one roof — recess, lunch and physical education classes are done jointly, but other classes and activities have been kept separate in the Woodstock building.

Because of space limitations, Prosper Valley has second- and third-graders each being taught by their respective instructors in the same classroom. Similar room-sharing is in place for grades 4-5.

“Our parents and students have adjusted well to the current configuration,” Superintendent Mary Beth Banios said on Friday afternoon. “The students have had an opportunity to spend time with their friends from Woodstock and this has been a real benefit.”

She said the students return to the Prosper Valley campus each week for “Forest Friday,” an outdoor-based learning curriculum.

During the Oct. 15 meeting, board members held a workshop session in which they considered changing grade configurations for the 2019-20 school year for Woodstock Elementary, Prosper Valley and Reading Elementary School, which is projected to have about 40 students that year.

They described issues with the current programming including a perceived duplication of efforts, and anticipated financial pressures for that year.

Officials also hope to address inequity in class sizes; for example, Woodstock Elementary fourth-grade classes have 25 students per teacher, while fifth-grade classes at Reading Elementary have 10 students per teacher.

Boolie Sluka, an attorney with four children in Reading Elementary who attended the meeting, said the discussions of the recently merged district haven’t done enough to keep the small school vibrant.

Other schools in the district have two-grade classrooms with multiple teachers, she said, while Reading Elementary has a single teacher handling grades 2, 3 and 4 in a single room, without any support.

While the Unified School Board did not vote on different configurations, it did informally poll its members on which of four options showed the most promise, according to meeting minutes.

The poll revealed that a “status quo” option, with no change, had less support than the most popular option, which would involve significant changes. That option, which would allow for a reduction in teaching staff, would integrate fifth- and sixth-grade classes from all three schools, with multiple teachers at each grade level. It also would shift fourth-graders from Reading Elementary into Woodstock Elementary.

Sluka said the district needs to put resources into the Reading school, not take students out.

“If you cut 4-6 out, then you have K-3, and how many students would that be?” she asked.

Others who attended the meeting also were critical of the four options, which some, like Reading Elementary Teacher Patricia Collins, said were too narrow, and did not reflect the scope of a faculty brainstorming session that had preceded the board workshop.

The Windsor Central Unified District Board will next meet at 6 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 5, in the district conference room for another workshop to discuss campus configurations. The board is expected to take possible action on the configuration issue during its Nov. 19 meeting.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at or 603-727-3211.

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