Frustrated over a perceived lack of communication from school officials over construction plans for Meadowbrook Farms Elementary School, some parents appealed to the Town Council Monday night.
The parents were reacting to the bid approved by the School Committee in March, which laid out a construction plan that would start in June and proceed through the following summer, including during the 2012-13 school year. The work is meant to solve longstanding moisture problems at the school and would require removing a layer of asbestos floor tiles and replacing the roof.
Several parents have said they feel so strongly against construction while the building is occupied that they would enroll their children elsewhere during that time period.
"My husband and I won't send our child to Meadowbrook next year if construction is taking place," said parent Kate Goldman, who has a son in kindergarten at Meadowbrook this year. "We hope this process will stop the construction from taking place with students there because we want him to stay at Meadowbrook."
Goldman said she was dismayed that her email to school officials, both those elected and to Supt. Victor Mercurio, had gone unanswered.
According to School Committee Chairwoman Deidre Gifford, however, she did send out a letter to Meadowbrook parents dated Thursday, April 19. Goldman and others contacted Monday night said they had not received the email. The email, obtained from Gifford, is reprinted below.
While Councilors Henry Boezi and Mark Gee praised the parents for their involvement, Councilors Michael Kiernan and Jeff Cianciolo expressed some frustration of their own that parents would question the commitment of School Committee members to provide a safe environment.
Cianciolo said he supported the parents' right to voice their opinions but he defended school officials.
"To suggest that the School Committee, Dr. Mercurio would do anything to harm the children, I just think that’s incorrect," said Cianciolo. "I also think you have a choice, if you don’t want your children to be there for construction."
Kiernan also came to the School Committee's defense on this issue.
"They will do the best job for the kids," he said. "To think they are disregarding the health of our kids is insulting."
Gee said he respected the parents' willingness to get involved. "I'm especially dissapointed that it seems to take so long to resolve issues which I think are very important."
The School Committee is meeting Tuesday night (4/24) in the cafeteria at Cole Middle School and this issue promises to be prominent. Meadowbrook parents have been circulating emails encouraging attendance.
In an interview Monday, Gifford said the contractor had submitted pricing on alternative construction plans and those options would be available at Tuesday night's meeting.
"We have every intention to make sure all of their concerns are addressed," she said of the parents.
Text of School Committee Chair Deidre Gifford's email to Meadowbrook parents dated April 19:
To the Members of the Meadowbrook Farms School Community:
We have heard from a number of you with a variety of concerns regarding the upcoming renovations to remediate the floor situation and moisture problems at Meadowbrook School. Although the current construction plan is consistent with that of many of our colleagues undertaking renovations to their schools, we understand that the uncertainty about exactly how that renovation process will unfold at Meadowbrook could be disconcerting. We are working towards providing the community with specifics about the process as soon as we can.
We have asked our Project Management company (SBS) and Tower Construction (the successful bidder) to prepare a number of possible alternative scenarios for doing the renovations at Meadowbrook. These scenarios will present us with options for the timing and phasing of construction work with respect to the school calendar. We will review those scenarios as soon as they are available, and Meadowbrook families will have an opportunity to provide input.
As you know, SBS and the School Department have undertaken a series of construction and renovation projects across the district over the last several years. With the cooperation and hard work of our principals, teachers, families, students and construction managers, these have taken place successfully and without incident. Please be assured that health and safety concerns for children and staff will be fully addressed, and we will do our best to minimize any disruptions to the educational process during the renovations.
Deidre Gifford, MD, MPH
Chair, East Greenwich School Committee