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Expect Sept. 2 Decision On High School Opening

Pottsgrove school board President Justin Valentine, above at left, and director Rick Rabinowitz in discussion before the start of Tuesday’s meeting

POTTSTOWN PA – Parents and students should definitively know by next Wednesday (Sept. 2, 2015) whether Pottsgrove High School will open on time, or if the structure must remain closed and school delayed for several days more while contractors finish cleaning up and teachers settle into classrooms.

Doors in all five Pottsgrove school buildings are scheduled to open Sept. 8 (Tuesday). Only the high school, in its second of three years of renovations, would be affected by a potential delay.

Pottsgrove’s Board of School Directors voted Tuesday night (Aug. 25) to officially pardon up to three days of high school student attendance if what’s left of summertime reconstruction work is not finished when needed. Its decision should erase families’ fears that Thanksgiving or Christmas holiday vacations could be shortened by a district attempt to make up lost school days, board member Dee Gallion said.

The board also promised high school students, in the words of director Rick Rabinowitz, “to do whatever it takes” to ensure the district fully prepared them to succeed on future tests of required school course work. “We’re making a commitment to you” the district will cover all educational content students need for scheduled exams like those for advanced placement courses, he said. None of his colleagues disagreed.

And directors heard Superintendent Shellie Feola report the district would create a plan to provide bus transportation beginning Sept. 8 to students attending the Western Montgomery County Career and Technology Center in Limerick so they, too, would not miss class time. For the week preceding that date, however, students must find ways to reach the center on their own.

The “drop dead” date for contractors to hand the high school over to administrators, Feola said, is next Friday (Sept. 4). The superintendent added she expected to know two days earlier if the building can reopen on schedule.

Directors took a tour of the high school before their meeting began, and those who had seen it in earlier stages of disrepair marveled at how much progress had been made in the week since they approved overtime expenses of up to $50,000 to speed up the work. Their project supervisor, Jim Hanna of D’Huy Engineering, reinforced the impression. Parts of the high school, he said in a later presentation, “are looking pretty spectacular.”

But Hanna, Feola, and others also acknowledged there was a great deal yet to be accomplished before students could be welcomed:

  • Three “missing” staircases must be fully reinstalled before anyone can be allowed into the building, Feola said;
  • Teachers, she added, needed at least two days to move items in, unpack, prepare their classrooms, and make necessary paperwork copies just to begin class;
  • Electricians must finish wiring fire alarm, clock and other systems that would be needed for school operations, according to Hanna;
  • The building must meet and pass regulatory inspections, he added, from Lower Pottsgrove Township and health inspectors;
  • The school roof, which has been a source of limited but embarrassing leaks during past heavy rains, is having those problems “immediately addressed by the manufacturer and the contractor,” Hanna noted. It, too, must past muster, and then will receive a 20-year warranty from the manufacturer;
  • School Internet services, disrupted for the summer, must be reconfigured; and
  • The high school office staff must have its quarters completed and cleaned before it can be relocated from a summer encampment at Pottsgrove Middle School.

Those are just the big items, Feola explained. Dozens of other lesser tasks, and a thorough cleaning, must be finished too.

Board members said they understood Feola’s concerns about the prospect of losing $6,000 per day in state funding for each day the school was not open as scheduled for student attendance. For the three or fewer days the high school might drop with the board’s pardon, directors indicated it was a small price to pay in avoiding bigger problems.

Director John Rossi was optimistic and undaunted. “I think we’re going to open on time,” he said, and urged doubters to be positive about the outcome.

Board President Justin Valentine nonetheless expressed “how disappointed” he was “to find that we are in this position.” The need for overtime, the causes of and concerns about delay, and the scramble to finish, he said, “are unfair to us and unfair to the community too.”

Related (to the Pottsgrove Board of School Directors’ Aug. 25 meeting):

Other coverage:

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