Renovations Continue at Burke, Posing Ongoing Hurdles for School
Due to a delay in the delivery of new windows for the elementary school, students may not be able to return to the upper floor of the building until late fall.
The week before school starts, parents generally have their kids' class schedule in hand and know if they'll be meeting in an actual classroom or not.
The situation at the Burke School is still far from that simple, however, according to some parents.
The West Peabody elementary school is still in the middle of a multi-phased renovation project that has led to all students and staff cramming into the first floor of the building. The second floor was cleared out this past winter after environmental testing revealed PCB levels in two classrooms were higher than federal safety standards for children.
Joel Saslaw, a parent of a second-grader and fourth-grader this year at the Burke, shared a number of concerns with the School Committee last week. Saslaw said last year was a "turbulent" one for families at the Burke due first to asbestos found in a chimney and then the PCBs, and the months ahead looked to be just as disruptive.
Saslaw noted that new custom-designed windows for the school are now behind schedule due to an unforeseen delay on delivery and may not be installed until Thanksgiving.
In the meantime, he said, class scheduling plans for the beginning of the school year changed significantly since they were last discussed in the summer, but not all parents were notified of the changes as of last Tuesday. He said he understood a notice was sent out by the principal, but he and others did not receive it.
Saslaw said he understood some classes would be held in the gym, some in the cafeteria and some possibly outdoors, but that was all just second-hand information.
In fact, according to school officials, that was the situation last year as well (excluding the outdoor component), the only actual difference now is which grades will be located where.
Committee member Brandi Carpenter, who is also a Burke parent, said she shared those concerns and asked for notification of the plans to go out to all parents before school started. She didn't see a notice either.
Carpenter said she was confident teachers would be able to effectively conduct classes in whatever environment they found themselves, but the parents needed to know. Otherwise, they'd be forced to rely on rumors and misinformation.
Superintendent Joe Mastrocola said a school-wide notice did come across his desk last week for approval, but he and Mayor Ted Bettencourt assured those concerned that notice would be made to the entire community by Sept. 4.
Bettencourt, who is also a Burke parent, said an informational community meeting would be held Sept. 11 or 13 at the school to address those issues, particularly the windows, and the general project schedule.
He said he decided to hold the meeting at a later date when most families would likely be able to attend.
As for the outdoor classes, Mastrocola said, a pilot science program was being considered that would utilize some iPads in order to pick up an Internet connection -- no science lab was otherwise available inside due to the renovations.
He said that once the windows did arrive, however, installation would likely move quickly.
All construction is scheduled for 3-11 p.m. while school is not in session, according to Bettencourt.
Committee member Beverley Griffin Dunne she would also be concerned if she were a parent at the Burke. She asked if the project manager -- Daedalus -- which is the same firm handling the Higgins Middle School project, could develop a separate page or website for the Burke.
Bettencourt and Mastrocola said that request would be made.
The school webpage was regularly updated last year with construction notes, but there no information posted now on the project.