On October 31, 2018

Mold issue at school dates back 25 years

In the article below we inadvertently reported the following issues incorrectly: While many prognoses for The Prosper Valley School (TPVS) were discussed at the Oct. 16 meeting, permanently closing the school was not one of them. While moisture has been an on-going problem at the school, mold was only identified this year. Donna Martin was a past member of the Reading School Board, but she is not a member of the new unified district board, and there is no longer a facilities committee. All schools in the district serve both canned and fresh fruits. We sincerely regret any confusion these errors may have caused.



By Curt Peterson

When the Windsor Central Modified Unified Union School District board met at Reading Elementary School on Oct. 16, The Prosper Valley School, which closed due to mold problems discovered just before opening day, was a major topic.

Prognoses range from an expensive “fix” to permanent closing of the school.

Another issue was the Reading community’s feeling RES is being treated unfairly.

Facilities Manager Joe Rigoli who outlined the history of moisture problems at TPVS, revealed among records found in the building. Recurring problems date back 20 to 25 years, Rigoli reported.

Possible causes include insufficient amounts of fill, the wrong kind of fill, as well as failure to waterproof the foundation, apparently contrary to specifications. Rigoli said claims made against the school’s architect and the contractor, resulted in a financial settlement.

At that time, he went on, the school board was given two choices—major replacement of the base on which the building was placed, or to simply install a moisture barrier and replace the existing flooring. Cost considerations forced the less expensive option.

Recurring problems indicate the “fix” didn’t work.

Rigoli and Finance and Operations Manager Richard Seaman said an engineering report will be available in six weeks, and that cost may approach $500,000 with no guaranteed result.

Seaman said no one knows from where the water is coming. Water pressure beneath is greater than the air pressure above, allowing moisture to permeate the concrete base.

Woodstock school representative Matt Stover asked who owns TPVS at the moment at the meeting. Seaman said the district owned the property since July 1.

Pomfret resident Jody Eaton lamented the discouraging information, and urged them to find a way, disregarding cost, to keep the school open. She said it’s “not just a building – it’s a community.”

Reading residents voiced their opinions. Parent Boolie Sluka questioned spending a $500,000 repairing a sick building five minutes from Woodstock, while stripping remote schools of resources for budgetary reasons.

“Why invest money with no sure outcome, instead of providing the satellite schools better education resources like we were promised?” Boolie Sluka asked.

She said she senses moves by the district are designed to achieve ultimate closure of RES.

Superintendent Mary Beth Banios said in an email that the decision to move the upper grades from Reading “should in no way be interpreted [as] a plan to close the school.”

Sluka’s husband, Justin, said Reading wishes nothing but the best for Prosper Valley.

“This isn’t ‘us against them,’” he said. “This is about equitable distribution of assets, about fairness.”

According to Sluka, RES had 40 students prior to the first round of school choice, in addition to their large pre-K program, comparable to TPVS student population.

“In the first round of school choice,” Sluka said. “Reading lost four students and Woodstock Elementary gained 11. On that basis, the board placed one of our two full-time licensed teachers at WES and combined our grades 2, 3 and 4 in one classroom with one licensed teacher.”

But in the second round of school choice, Sluka said, Reading had more than they started with. Their request that their lost teacher be returned was denied.

District faculty and administration met and brainstormed 20 creative ideas for configuring student population among the campuses, Sluka said.

“When their ideas were presented to the Board, only four survived for the Oct. 16 meeting—and three of them involve shrinking RES.” In another example, Sluka said kids complained about the food at RES—canned fruit, for example, rather than fresh vegetables and fruits.

“The Woodstock parents didn’t want a generic food service providing meals,” he explained, “so an in-house program was chosen to provide fresh produce. But the distributor will charge $100 to deliver every two weeks to satellite schools. So Reading kids get canned foods, and the Woodstock kids get the good stuff. The school year cost would be $1,700.”

“Smaller towns feel the resources are going to Woodstock and not to us,” he said. “But all Reading wants is our teacher.”

The Board told Sluka other schools have three grades in one room and aren’t complaining.

“Those schools have two licensed teachers in their three-grade classroom, and Reading has only one,” Sluka said.

An issue for the smaller schools, and for prospective forced merger partner Barnard, is representation on the WCMUUS Board – Woodstock has six votes and each of the smaller towns has two. A meeting at which this issue will be discussed is scheduled for mid-December, but Banios wrote, “The Board’s current position is that they are waiting on the formal decision of the Board of Education before taking any further action related to Barnard Academy.”

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