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Students relocated; repairs now the question

Date: 2/14/2011

Feb. 14, 2011

By Chris Maza

Reminder Assistant Editor

EAST LONGMEADOW — As the East Longmeadow School District begins busing the students of Mapleshade Elementary School to their temporary home of Memorial School in Wilbraham, 7.2 miles away, today, it now must continue the process of assessing the damage to and structural integrity of Mapleshade's roof and supporting beams and what needs to be done to make the necessary repairs.

Mapleshade was shut down indefinitely after the school's head custodian observed a crack in one of the supporting ceiling arches in the cafeteria on Feb. 4.

Engineers from Tighe and Bond were called in for an initial assessment and by Feb. 5, the crack had worsened and a second crack has appeared in another beam.

School department administration and engineers were also concerned about the gym, which features the same architecture as the cafeteria. As of now, there appears to be no damage there, but Superintendent Gordon Smith said the town and engineers are continuing to assess the gym's integrity.

"We want to make sure we know everything we need to know about both rooms and then we'll start to go into a design phase and see what we need to do to make sure our ceiling and our roof are in a situation where it will be able to handle the New England winter," Smith said.

Classrooms in the building were not in any danger.

Smith also said that Mapleshade's situation was a unique one and that the main reason for the structural problems was the age of the school, which was built in 1954. He said he believed it to be the oldest school in the district, adding it is the only building built with wood beams to support the roof. All other buildings were constructed with steel to hold up the roof.

Smith could not say how much it would cost or how long it would take for Mapleshade to be repaired, but did say the plan is to have the students back in the building by the 2011-12 school year, if not sooner.

"We've met with the Mapleshade staff, and I'm sure I can speak for the Mapleshade families. They want to return to Mapleshade School," Smith said. "That's their home and we're going to get them back there."

In response to the closure, the school department and the School Committee spent the better part of the week hashing out a plan to get the students of Mapleshade back to school in a timely manner and got a little help from some friends.

The Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District (HWRSD) and the Wilbraham Board of Selectmen voted to allow East Longmeadow to lease the now-vacant Memorial School on Main Street in Wilbraham and, after lawyers from the two sides agreed on the lease, the School Committee voted unanimously to agree to it on Feb. 9.

The East Longmeadow School Committee vote was contingent upon the Wilbraham Board of Selectmen also approving the lease agreement.

The lease will run until June 30, the last possible day that classes can be in session. Smith said he could not divulge the total cost of the lease because, as of press time, the Wilbraham Board of Selectmen had not given final approval for the lease.

Smith said in a press conference after the School Committee met on Feb. 9, busing the Mapleshade students to Wilbraham will not affect busing for students at other schools.

All educational tools used at Mapleshade, including the contents of the library are being moved to Memorial School in order to make the educational process as seamless as possible according to Smith.

Mapleshade students have missed a total of 13 school days — seven snow days and six days as a result of the building issues. While that leaves the students with a final day of classes on June 28, Smith said he and the School Committee wished to keep the students of Mapleshade on the same schedule, or as close to it as possible, as the rest of the district.

Smith told Reminder Publications that the staff at Mapleshade is behind the idea of conducting classes through February break in order to gain back four of those missed days and build upon the momentum gained by getting the students back to school and into a routine. Students would still have a long weekend for the Presidents' Day holiday.

"We are certainly understanding if people have plans, especially things that they have paid for in advance," Smith said. "Certainly, no one saw this coming."

Sean Kelley of the East Longmeadow Department of Public Works (DPW) said that the town's buildings are regularly inspected by Building Facilities Manager Bruce Fenney, adding that other schools do not pose as many worries in the case of large amounts of snow and ice because of the newer construction and materials.

Smith said the roofs of all other school buildings have been or are in the process of being cleared.

Kelley explained the clearing of snow from the schools and other municipal buildings was a "fluid project." All of the school roofs were anticipated to be completely snow free by Feb. 11, thanks to a joint effort by school custodians and the DPW.

Kelley added that, in addition to the schools, the DPW has worked feverishly to clear snow off of the Pleasant View Senior Center which also has sections of flat roof.

That project took the better part of the weekend, he said.

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