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Brookings, Dryden schools to be ready for students

Date: 8/16/2011

Aug. 17, 2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD — Students might think the tornado damage at the Elias Brookings Museum Magnet School and the Mary Dryden Veterans’ Memorial School would give them an extension of their summer vacation, but they, like the other youth in the city, will report back to their schools on Aug. 29.

Rita Coppola-Wallace, the city’s Capital Asset Construction Director, told Reminder Publications both schools would be ready for the first day of the new year.

The Brookings School building was so heavily damaged by the tornado the city was forced to construct a two-story building using modular classrooms on the fields of Ruth Elizabeth Park adjacent to the school. Coppola-Wallace said the city acted very quickly to assess other possible locations, but decided to keep the temporary building next to the school.

“We knew it had to stay in the neighborhood,” she said.

The search for a company that could construct the new building by the beginning of the new school year was started a week after the tornado, Coppola-Wallace noted. She said there was “some pushback” from the companies on the timeline but both schools are on schedule.

She said she did a walk-through on the new building on Aug. 15 to develop a “punch list” of details that need completion. The elevator will be installed this week and furniture has been ordered, she added.

The temporary building will not have a gym or a cafeteria, she said. It will have a large multi-purpose room and a “servery” in which hot meals will be distributed to students who will eat them in their classrooms.

One plus for the new building, though, Coppola-Wallace noted is air conditioning.

The temporary structures at both schools will be used for the next 18 to 24 months, she said.

Brookings, built in 1926, is undergoing a seismic assessment of its stability as part of the process to begin repairs on the building. An architectural assessment to the building to determine the extent of damage has been completed, she said.

At the Dryden School, the building suffered damage as a whole and the north wing required demolition, she said. Six classrooms were affected by the tornado. The School Department has moved the preschool class from the building next to the school so it could be used for two of the classrooms.

She said the project to rebuild Dryden is “not as easy as Brookings.” At Brookings, the damage required students to be moved to a new building.

“I’ve got an empty school to work in,” Coppola-Wallace said.

At Dryden, she explained, four temporary classrooms will be used and the renovation “will happen around the kids.”

The north wing of the school will be rebuilt first and then repairs to other interior damage will be undertaken, she said.

The temporary classrooms at the two schools will cost $7 million, she said, and despite being temporary structures they are being constructed to meet all state requirements for classrooms.

She praised the two principals of the schools for their help and understanding and said, “Everyone has worked so hard.”

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