Progress at Central High 'unacceptable'


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ST. CROIX - The V.I. Board of Education expressed its frustration over the weekend with the slow-moving project to reopen Central High School.

In updating the board, St. Croix District Superintendent Gary Molloy said while work at the school is not complete, it is the department's intent to do whatever is necessary to open the school for the coming 2014-2015 school year.

Education Commissioner Donna Frett-Gregory was unable to attend the regular meeting Saturday, but sent her district superintendents to relay information to the board.

Molloy said he has been in communication with Public Works Department and the Waste Management Authority officials who are taking the lead in fixing the sewer and storm drain issue that closed the school.

Classes at the school were suspended March 18 when dozens of students were piled into ambulances and emergency medical vehicles after some type of noxious fumes - now blamed on a condemned sewage system - caused them to experience vomiting, headaches and dizziness, while a few even fainted, collapsing in front of their schoolmates.

The incident on the campus was the third instance of a foul odor in just more than a month, and resulted in the most intense symptoms.

The school has been closed since then, and students remained at home for two weeks until April 1, when they began sharing the Educational Complex campus on a double-session schedule.

While more than two full months have passed, Molloy said the magnitude of the problem at the school is still being assessed. He said smoke testing has been completed to determine how the systems are connected to the campus and possible areas, such as the cafeteria and other wings of the school, where sewer gasses could be leaking into the campus.

Molloy said the second phase of work has also been completed, which included similar smoke testing in the vocational area and the gymnasium.

At this point, Pubic Works and Waste Management are awaiting additional information to determine how and when to go forward with Phase 3, which will include running a camera through the sewage and storm drain systems to determine if there are any obstructions that hinder the free flow of the sewage.

Once checks with the camera are done, the plant operation director will determine the scope of work to be done and make recommendations to begin repairs, Molloy said.

After more than two months, board members expressed frustration that work on the campus is still in the assessment phase.

Calling the pace of repairs unacceptable, member Judy Gomez said she believed the departments are dragging their feet.

Gomez slammed her hand on the table when told by Molloy that each phase had only taken "about one day each."

"This is nonsense and something has to be done, what are we dragging our feet about?", she asked.

Molloy said because the campus has not been turned over to his department, there is not much he could do while the lead agencies complete their work. He defended the slow-moving project by saying that Waste Management Authority equipment had to be relocated to the site each time and specialized equipment had to be brought in, stating that the different phases took different types of equipment.

"You are defending the length of time it took, but as the instructional leader, you need to make sure that they work post haste to get the students back in school," Gomez said. "This is a priority and the children are being affected. It has to be set as a priority, we can't be dragging our feet on this."

"Raise the flag and let them know they are not doing what they need to do for these children," she said. "It's one government, call the governor, because this is unacceptable."

Member Mary Moorhead said that by now the problem should be have been fixed so that the school could be used for the summer enrichment programs that would serve as a trial run to ensure that the problems were indeed addressed.

Moorhead asked Molloy for a timeline for each phase and the possibility of the trial run.

Molloy said he did not anticipate using the school for the summer but said he did not have actual dates for the completion of the projects.

Redistricting, summer work

Molloy and St. Thomas-St. John School Superintendent Janette Smith-Barry also discussed redistricting, summer maintenance and training for teachers.

While Smith-Barry said there are no additional redistricting efforts in her district, Molloy said redistricting continues on St. Croix where the committee has been meeting to conduct assessments on enrollment and class sizes to see where more adjustments are needed based on migration needs.

While schools will be dismissed on June 20, both districts will have summer enrichment programs beginning as early as June 23 and running through July 25, according to the superintendents.

Education Department Director of Plant Operations and Maintenance William Matthew, and Joseph Sibilly, deputy superintendent of the St. Thomas-St. John District, said significant budget cuts will limit the amount of work done on the campuses over the summer but they plan to execute projects until their $600,000 budget is exhausted.

After handling some additional committee matters, some of which needed board actions, the board adjourned, setting its next meeting for July 19 on St. Croix.

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email fstokes@dailynews.vi.

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