Construction at the site of the new joint elementary school has been going well and is more or less on time, according to Twin Valley School Board member Phil Taylor.
Since work began at the end of November, foundations for both of the new additions at the site have been poured and cured enough to begin work on framing. The steel-framed walls for the extension on the west end of the building are already up.
Work on the addition on the north side of the building is also underway. So far, Taylor said, there haven’t been any big, or expensive, surprises. “Just the kind of things you’d expect,” he said. “Like when we were putting in the footings we found an area of unsuitable soils, basically organic matter that would decompose and settle, so we had to dig that out and replace it with appropriate soil. But we had a contingency fund in the event we hit ledge, which we didn’t, so there was money in the budget for it.”
Another minor snafu was a load of concrete that didn’t meet engineers’ specifications. “They test the concrete when it comes in,” Taylor explained. “One batch came in and didn’t have enough oxygen, so it was sent back and we had to repour – at no extra cost to us.”
According to Taylor, the work schedule is about a week behind at this point, but construction crews hope to get back on track in the next week or two. “We’re going to be pushing hard on those areas until school gets out,” Taylor said. “Then they can get into the building and start work on the interior. The pressure for us is to get the kids out of the school building as soon as possible so the construction company can get to work and have the interior finished on time.”
On time, according to the schedule, is September 11, which means elementary classes may start a little later than usual. “But that’s predicated on us getting out of the building on June 24,” Taylor said. “We’re hoping we can be out of there a week earlier.”
It’s not just the last day of school that will affect the date contractors can get inside the school, the building also has to be empty. The project also includes extensive interior renovations, modifying the open classroom concept school into a traditional classroom configuration with doors, walls, and a central hallway.
Taylor says there is money in the budget for moving and storage of the school’s contents, but the board is continually “value engineering” as they go along. “We may be able to hire some local kids to do the packing,” Taylor said.
And they may be able to store some of the items at the former Deerfield Valley Supply building. “That’s where we’re storing the portable classroom,” Taylor said, “which we took down ourselves and saved $3,000 to $4,000.”
Taylor said the school was also able to save about $80,000 on classroom cabinetry for storage. “We didn’t have a low bidder from Vermont local contractors, so we were able to use a service through the state prison system. They build the cabinets and deliver them to us. All we have to do is install them.”
For students at the school, the construction has been much less of a distraction than some may have feared, according to Deerfield Valley Elementary School Principal Rebecca Fillion.
When construction started, of course, students’ attention was easily turned to the excitement going on outside their classrooms. But now it has become old hat. “It took some acclimation for the kids to get used to the big diggers driving past,” Fillion says. “But the teachers are great. They keep the curtains drawn if there are distractions, and open them at snack time so kids can check out what’s going on. If there’s something really exciting going on, they’ll let them watch construction for a couple of minutes before getting back to work.”
As far as noise is concerned, Fillion said it’s not what she had expected. “It’s not as noisy as I thought it would be. DEW (the construction company) has been phenomenal. If we have a problem, the superintendent, Jim Kelley, is on it in a heartbeat.”
One of the only serious issues was that of diesel fumes that seeped into the building. Fillion says she reported the problem to Kelley, who immediately took care of it. “After that, we had a state team come in to check the site and get data on the air quality, but we’ve had no issue since then. They (DEW) have a lot of experience working in schools, and they want to make sure we’re safe. They really go above and beyond.”
Fillion says the students at DVES are genuinely excited about their new school, and particularly looking forward to mixing with their Whitingham counterparts. “The kids are really excited about it,” she says. “I told them they’re getting 100 new friends, and they can’t wait. They’re also excited about having a music room and an art room.”
Some efforts have already begun to integrate the students from the two towns. Fifth-grade students have made and are selling a “Twin Valley Elementary School” T-shirt as part of a fundraiser. And members of the Whitingham Parent/Teacher Group have reached out to Wilmington parents. “We didn’t have an active PTG, so some of our parents have gone to the monthly meetings to talk about things like the new playground and other issues.”
Teachers from DVES and Whitingham Elementary School have also been working together. “All of the work we’ve been doing to bring teachers together has been positive. Things are falling into place in a nice way.”