Asbestos at Sunnyside delays roof project, again

Sunnyside Elementary School parents are upset to hear their children’s school will have to wait even longer for a permanent roof repair.

The school’s roof, estimated to be 20 years old, was scheduled to be repaired when the after the 2015-16 school year, but that plan changed when asbestos was discovered in one of the areas in need of fixing.

Board of Ed Chairman Mark Holden said the asbestos isn’t to be considered a danger to anyone in the building as long as it remains “encapsulated.”

Sunnyside PTO member Anne Gaydos said there initially was concerns of students having to relocate, but Holden said that will not be necessary. She said the PTO is also frustrated they were told the reason the project wasn’t completed initially was because they didn’t have a building coordinator, but one was hired and still no progress has been made.

Shelton Superintendent of Schools Dr. Chris Clouet said his staff as well as architects are working to come up with the best option for the roof project, while considering everyone’s safety, going forward.

“The project was approved by the state, the city’s money was allocated by the Board of Aldermen, project was put out to bid,” Dr. Clouet said. “The bidder was accepted and then they said they would like to run some tests for asbestos in the roof decking before beginning the repairs.”

Clouet clarified that when most people hear roof they visualize what they see from the street covering a home. He said larger buildings and schools use a more complex roof system made up of multiple layers.

According to Clouet, one of the layers includes a substance used back in the 1950s which contained 3 to 10% of asbestos.  The discovery of it put the plans of working on the school’s roof to a halt.

Gaydos said she noticed was no work was being done on the school’s roof while she was with her daughter at the city’s free playground program, which is held at all of the local elementary schools (Sunnyside, Booth Hill, Elizabeth Shelton and Mohegan).

Gaydos added that she hadn’t heard of any complications with the project until she spoke with Holden.

“I was surprised and the PTO President (Kristine Ray) was unaware of the setback until I told her,” said Gaydos.

Ray was unavailable for comment, but Gaydos said the consensus of the school’s PTO was extreme frustration.

“It’s mid-July and school starts Sept. 6 so it doesn’t look like much is going to happen this summer,” said Gaydos.

Mayor Mark Lauretti said that’s not entirely true and there’s still a chance work could be done on the roof before the end of summer.

“The project has unofficially been delayed but we are still weighing all of our options,” Lauretti said. “The whole building will not get done but a portion may get done.”

Lauretti said the main concern is trying to make sure the building is watertight on a temporary basis, even if that means another temporary patch job.

Sunnyside PTO is set to meet with Clouet Aug. 1 and will have a better idea of options after that.

He said he is expecting additional costs, but he isn’t entirely sure because there is still an ongoing discussion with vendors deciding on the best method to safely deal with the asbestos.

“We may not need additional patching and the patching from previous year could be last us another year. It’s a possibility,” Clouet said.

Holden said the asbestos isn’t to be considered a danger to anyone in the building as long as it remains “encapsulated.”

Gaydos said there initially was concerns of students having to relocate, but Holden said that will not be necessary.

“People tend to get concerned when they hear ‘asbestos,’ but at this point it is ‘encapsulated’ and is not a problem. The trick is making sure that when the work is being done it doesn’t become a problem,” said Holden. “The problem with that is that it does need a new roof. The issue still needs to be addressed but no one knows what the final outcome will be.”

More than $700,000 allocated to the project will not be spent until it is finished, according to Holden.

“I expect the work will still be done, but it may not happen this summer. One of the concerns is having them work while students are in the building, which is not a viable option,” said Holden.

He added that another option for the city is to have the work done after students are dismissed each day and on weekends, but it would be costly for the city.

“That would drive the price of completing the project up tremendously,” said Holden. “Everything I know says there would be no students in the building during asbestos remediation.”

Another temporary patch job is not what the Board of Ed had in mind as a solution, but Holden said its options are limited and focused on people’s safety as well as getting the job done correctly.

“That would be rather frustrating, but at the same time we have to go with the best option considering the circumstances at the time. I’m kind of surprised there hadn’t been asbestos factored in way back when on this roof because you would expect on a school this age that asbestos would be present,” said Holden. “Why that wasn’t always a part of this plan is still a mystery to me. The Board of Ed really isn’t a part of capital projects like this and the city doesn’t want us to be.”

Holden said he is unsure of the last time the school was checked for asbestos, but said air quality checks are done regularly.

He added that although the news on the school’s roof project isn’t what most would’ve hoped, new library furniture is to be installed before the school year.

Gaydos said fortunately the prior temporary patch job held up during last year’s mild winter, but she is skeptical they will be lucky two years in a row.