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WACS scrambles to have school ready for students

September 22, 2016
By David Prenatt - , Westfield Republican

It was a mad scramble right up to the end, but through the efforts of maintenance, teachers and administration working together, Westfield Academy and Central School students returned on the first day of classes to a fully operational renovated facility well, mostly.

At a recent board of education meeting, WACS board members listened to various accounts of the efforts to get the school building prepared for students return. The district has been engaged in phase one of an extensive facilities renovation project throughout the summer. As the start of school drew near, much work still needed to be completed, including installation of sinks, toilets and floors.

On Sept. 6, the first day of school, the hallways were clear, the bathrooms were finished, the classrooms were organized, and the computers were running. Plus there were several new features, including water- bottle refill stations. Also, there were many improvements not visible, including the removal of asbestos from much of the building.

WACS Superintendent David Davison gave credit all around, but especially to facilities director Lou Golando and the maintenance department. "The maintenance crew did an amazing job over the final few days to get the schools ready for opening day," he said. "They worked every day over the Labor Day weekend moving desks, filing cabinets, book shelves and boxes of books in very hot and humid conditions. It was clear they were determined to get this done."

The challenge to get the school ready was daunting and went right down to the wire, Davison said. In the final days, the maintenance crew moved a "gym full of furniture, an auditorium stage full of boxes, an auditorium pit and three aisles of furniture back into the classrooms and then cleaning up," he said. "We had people here until 11 on Tuesday night picking up all of the empty boxes and in at 6 on Wednesday morning scrubbing floors."

By the start of school, the building looked much better than he had anticipated, Davison said. "I told you it wasn't going to be pretty, but Lou's crew made it pretty," he said.

The teachers also put in extra hours, Davison said. Because of the work going on, all of the classrooms were packed up and each teacher had 35-50 boxes of materials to organize, he said.

"In many cases those rooms could not be set up until Monday, Labor Day, or Tuesday," Davison said. "It was amazing how many teachers came in as soon as they could get into their classroom. Even on Labor Day many teachers spent the whole day setting up their rooms."

Administrative staff were also present in the last day. Board members and members of the public attending the meeting noted the many hours that Davison, secondary principal Ivana Hite and elementary principal Dr. Mary Rockey were in the building helping to get things in place.

However, not everything is finished. Davison said the overall project is 85 percent complete and work will continue throughout the school year. The largest task to be done is to place new flooring in 23 more classrooms before the end of October, he said. Because of this, teachers sometimes have to relocate their class.

"We have set up a rotational system to have the classroom work complete before the end of October," Davison said. The teachers have been very understanding and supportive remaining focused on instruction no matter where their classroom is for the week."

Elementary principal Rockey told board members that the first week of school was a positive one, despite some inconveniences. "It was a different type of start to the school year. Everyone worked to together to make it happen," she said. "I'd also like to thank Lou and his staff. I saw how hard they worked over the Labor Day weekend. It was phenomenal."

Secondary principal Ivana Hite noted that the students enjoy the improvements. "They are especially loving the water bottle refill stations," she said. "The water is filtered and it counts the number of refills, and lets you know when the filter needs to be changed. I'm pleased to see them drinking water instead of sugary drinks."

In a related matter, Davison reported that the new drop-off area for fifth grader students seems to be working well. The district has been exploring ways to alleviate the congestion caused for Westfield Hospital during drop off and pickup times.

Davison said the new area was empty of students and cars by 3:18 p.m. The regular drop-off/pickup spot also seemed to clear out quickly as well, he said,

In other business, school business manager Anthony Montoro told board members that a new lead testing law just came out and the district must become familiar with its requirements.

Commissioner of Education, Mary Ellen Elia, said in a memo to all school administrators that reports of the discovery of high levels of lead in some schools across the nation, has resulted in legislation requiring schools to test their water supplies. This legislation also allows schools to remediate the problem.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, "Lead plumbing components are still a concern in many of New York schools, especially those constructed before 1986." The EPA says all schools need to: "Identify potential sources of lead in their facilities, monitor school drinking water for elevated lead levels, resolve problems if elevated lead levels are found, and communicate about their lead control programs."

Montoro also noted that there have been many changes in the state department of education project managers for capital improvement projects. "There's a lot of new folks in the department," he said. "I'm not sure what it will mean future projects, but things could be dicey for a while."

Several students from12th Grade Government class attended the September 12 board meeting. According to Senior Amanda Knappenberger, student must acquire 100 points in the class, and one option is to attend a Board of Education meeting and take notes on the proceedings. A board member must then sign the notes to verify the student's presence at the meeting, and he or she subsequently receives 25 points.



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