On January 8, 2020

Future of Prosper Valley School uncertain

The future of The Prosper Valley School in Pomfret is still undecided after more than 18 months and $100,000 in remediation work by the Windsor Central consolidated school district. A decision will be discussed at the WCUSD’s Jan. 13 board meeting in the Teagle Library in Woodstock.

TPVS was closed when toxic mold and moisture were discovered in the building in September 2018. TPVS students are bused to Woodstock Elementary School, where they are taught in a school within a school.

There is no funding for reopening TPVS in the draft budget and Patti Kuzmickas, Pomfret representative on the WCUSD finance committee, urged a decision regarding the school. The decision would be either to do whatever it takes to reopen the school, or to give it back to the town.

TPVS has a history of moisture problems and failed attempts at a resolution. The WCUSD board can’t occupy the building until the problems are solved, and is committed to restoring to use what Superintendent Mary Beth Banios has called “a valuable district asset.”

Engineers recommend a specialized HVAC system costing $100,000, saying it should sufficiently dehumidify the building. Extensive drainage alterations and repair have already been performed, as well as elaborate air testing, soil analysis and structural cleaning.

The problem — where to find $100,000 to pay for the new system.

The finance committee is already struggling to avoid projected FY2021 per/student expenses above $18,756 which would result in a state penalty. TPVS investment is not in the proposed budget.

Financing through a bond was considered, but the board decided to locate funds within the budget instead. No TPVS funding in the budget has led to frustration among Pomfret and Bridgewater residents.

Pomfret resident Bob Crean suggested a much less expensive deep clean and retesting to see if the completed work sufficiently improved conditions at TPVS. If it has, Crean said, the board could open the school and avoid spending $100,000 for the HVAC system.

Asked about the Crean suggestion, Banios wrote to The Mountain Times, “To date, the board has asked us to look at putting the HVAC system in the budget — we have not been asked … to explore any other options.”

Bob Coates, the other Pomfret rep on the WCUSD Board, said in an email he concurs with Banios regarding TPVS, but added, “I am hoping that [drainage work completed] reduces the moisture in the building. Now that the perimeter drains have been fixed and culverts installed for rain water, we can take some time to see if it helps with moisture levels.”

He believes a returned school must be an intact, occupiable building, as TPVS was when the district took ownership – before the summer conditions that produced the mold issue.

In other words, they might legally have to spend the money before giving the building back to Pomfret.

Banios said, “There is also a new committee tasked with looking at potential use options for the school, but they are in the very early organizational stages of their work.”

Floated ideas have included kindergarten only, with some satellite administration offices.

The superintendent warned not to “get ahead of decision making and board processing, … the situation requires careful consideration and the associated time to determine the best pathway forward.”

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