NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

November 21, 2013

Air quality tests needed before Page School permit issued

BY JENNIFER SOLIS
CORRESPONDENT

---- — WEST NEWBURY – Before a final occupancy permit is issued for the Dr. John C. Page Elementary School, questions about the air quality in the building must be answered, said Building Inspector Glenn Clohecy.

Brad Dore, chairman of the committee overseeing a $10 million renovation project at Page, told selectmen this week that the job was substantially completed. “We’re pretty much done,” he said, noting that the building is up and functioning, and has been granted a temporary occupancy permit until a punch-list of remaining items is taken care of.

Dore’s committee anticipates the remaining work will be done by the end of December – with the exception of a revamping of the school’s entranceway.

But after conducting a walk-through of the building, Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association (MIIA), the town’s insurance company, felt the punch-list was “excessively long,” said Kris Pyle, administrative assistant to the board. Insurers aren’t yet ready to put the school building back on the town’s policy. Instead, selectmen will need to extend the project’s Builder’s Risk insurance with Hanover Insurance for 60 days to the tune of $3,025.

The dollar amount of work left on the project is $200,000 to $300,000, which includes a punch-list and a hold back, according to a memo issued from the selectmen’s office to MIIA on Nov. 6.

In addition Clohecy wants air quality tests conducted before he’ll give his final sign-off on the project. “I need some kind of a baseline to say what they have up there now is OK,” he told selectmen on Monday.

Because of budgetary limitations, repair or replacement of 11 mechanical air handlers was never part of the scope of work, said Dore, adding that new air handlers would cost more than $400,000.

“Those things are old, and they should be replaced,” he said, but said that the current situation is not a code violation and that windows can be opened periodically to improve air quality.

“Whose going to monitor that every day, Brad?,” Clohecy asked. The renovation included new windows and other energy efficiencies that seal up the school.

“They’ve taken a drafty building and, hopefully, tightened it up –but it makes the air more stagnant in the building,” he said. The project also involved using chemicals and adhesives, not previously used in the building.

Selectman Glenn Kemper noted that complete renovations of the school were estimated to cost $20 million, but voters only approved $10 million. Some state funding for green repairs reduced the cost of the project on taxpayers even further.

He agreed that testing air quality was important, but also stressed for concerned parents that the school never had an established air quality program to begin with –even before the renovation project.

Still, Clohecy insisted that before he can issue a final occupancy permit he needs the results of baseline testing or the architect to document a plan for how the lack of mechanical air handlers has been adequately addressed.

Dore agreed to bring the concern back to his committee and said the roughly $2,000 needed for air quality testing could likely be absorbed within the project’s contingency fund.

The committee hopes to work with the Pentucket School District to hold an open house for the community to tour the school improvements before the end of year.