Broken water line, asbestos displace students until March most likely
By Katy Savage
Castleton Village School abruptly closed for two months starting Tuesday, Jan. 18 after a broken water pipe and an asbestos problem damaged half the building.
About 100 middle school students and 20 teachers from Castleton Village School moved to Castleton Elementary to resume in-person classes on Tuesday, Jan. 25.
“It’s a fairly significant problem,” said Slate Valley Unified School District Superintendent Brooke Olsen-Farrell.
About two inches of water was discovered on the floor around 4 a.m. Jan. 18 by a maintenance worker after a pipe burst over the long Martin Luther King weekend. All of the sheetrock will need to be replaced.
Students spent the past week learning remotely as Olsen-Farrell initially expected repairs to be done in February, but on Friday, Jan. 21, maintenance workers found that glue in the baseboards contained asbestos. Castleton Village likely won’t open again until March.
“Now we have to remediate all the asbestos before we can do anything,” Olsen-Farrell said.
All students and staff can no longer enter the building until air quality testing is done, Olsen-Farrell said.
“We had no idea that portion of the building had asbestos because it was built in the 1990s,” Olsen-Farrell said. “It came as a complete surprise.” While teachers were unable to access books and belongings from Castleton Village, they spent Monday, Jan. 24 locating desks, chairs, books, materials, folding tables and anything they could find out from neighboring schools and storage to move to Castleton Elementary School — where they’ll stay until repairs are done at Castleton Village School.
“It’s going to be a tight fit,” Olsen-Farrell said. “It certainly isn’t going to be ideal.”
Olsen-Farrell said the students will share the gym and cafeteria. The building’s support staff, intervention programs and special education rooms were combined to make space.
“We’re just trying to pull things together—pull things out of storage,” Olsen-Farrell said. “It’s going to be cobbled together.”
Olsen-Farrell hoped there would be enough desks. “We’re moving staff around and having them share space before moving classrooms,” she said. “In some ways, Covid prepared us for some of this — in terms of being a little bit flexible.”
It’s unclear how much repairs will cost. The district has a $2,500 insurance deductible.
“It doesn’t look terrible but the sheetrock walls acted as a sponge and soaked everything up,” she said.
She said part of the problem is that the sheetrock is double layered for sound. “It would not dry despite all of our best efforts,” Olsen-Farrell said.
Olsen-Farrell was hopeful testing at Castleton Village would be done within a week. But the water leak at Castleton Village isn’t the only problem in the district. Olsen-Farrell said she got a call over the weekend about another broken pipe at Fair Haven High School. Staff spent Sunday, Jan. 23, cleaning water at the high school. Olsen-Farrell said there was no significant damage but one room— the student support center — will be temporarily closed.
“I think this is a classic example of deferred maintenance,” she said. “We have aging infrastructure and that needs to be addressed. We don’t have enough in our budget.”
Despite the challenges, Olsen-Farrell said she was committed to keeping the schools open after a year of remote learning due to the pandemic.
“It’s critical that our kids have in-person learning,” she said.
Olsen-Farrell said the teachers have been “taking it in stride. I think everyone’s a bit numb after having years of living in a crisis state.”
The water damage adds to an already challenging year.
Sixty staff members were out in the district on Friday, Jan. 21 — most with Covid or Covid-like symptoms, Olsen-Farrell said.
“It’s impossible to staff,” said Olsen-Farrell “It’s been stressful because students and staff absences have been really, really high and there are no substitutes — no one is willing to sub.”
Administrators, principals and administrative assistants have been filling in with teachers out. Some classes have been combined.
“It’s all hands on deck,” Olsen-Farrell said. “We’re doing everything we can to not have to close school and keep kids in school.”
While the lockers have been removed from Castleton Village School and testing is ongoing, there is a plan to permanently close Castleton Village at the end of this school year. Fair Haven High School is entering the final phase of a $4 million renovation and all middle school students in the district will move to the high school at the start of next school year.
It’s unclear what will happen to Castleton Village School in the future. Both Castleton and Hubbardton have a question on their Town Meeting ballots to acquire the building for $1. If the vote fails, the district will retain ownership, but it wouldn’t be a school, Olsen-Farrell said.
Olsen-Farrell said teachers were optimistic despite the challenges. “It’s definitely one more thing, but what can you do?” Olsen-Farrell said. “We have a really good team at Slate Valley and we’ll figure it out and we’ll get kids back in the classroom. We’re a pretty resilient team.”