Inefficient windows, mangled lockers, and a long-dry swimming pool were some of the sights that greeted Mayor Daryl Finizio and members of the City Council and Board of Education as they toured on Saturday.
The tour was arranged to give elected officials a firsthand look at building concerns raised by school officials. The City Council is currently considering options to address at the school, including the possibility of constructing a new school to replace the current one, which was built in 1970.
Tim MacDuff, chief of operations for , started the tour in the auditorium. MacDuff said he was proud of recent renovations in the auditorium, including upgraded seating and a new floor. However, MacDuff also showed attendees a section of rusted pipe that had to removed from the school’s plumbing as well as broken concrete and disintegrated rebar from the pool.
“We have a lot of interim things that can be done, but it’s going to cost money and it’s not money well-spent,” said MacDuff.
Mike Sorano, an architect with Friar Associates, said the ADA requires one handicapped-accessible classroom for each subject. He said one requirement is a sufficient clearance for people in wheelchairs to open doors. In one classroom visited by the group, he showed that this would involve cutting into a wall and moving the door to allow sufficient space.
MacDuff said the school’s elevator is small and difficult to access for people in larger wheelchairs. People using the elevator have to go through the kitchen to get into the cafeteria or go outside the building to access the wing where elective courses are held.
Tom Ferino, lead custodian at NLHS, said most of the windows at the school have poor hinges or bad seals, allowing wind and rain to enter the building. In one classroom, MacDuff pointed out plastic sheeting that had been placed over the windows to avoid the draft. MacDuff said the school’s heating system is about 40 years old, making it more difficult to find specialty parts to maintain it.
“This building is not energy efficient at all…It’s just bleeding out financially over the years,” he said.
In the boys’ locker room, most lockers showed significant damage and only one of the bathroom stalls had a door: a wooden replacement. Despite being drained, the pool has moisture buildup on the ceiling due to a breakdown in the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system. The tour also visited the mechanical area under the pool, where MacDuff said pressure on a concrete and rebar wall was exacerbated by damage caused by pool chemicals.
“The pool hadn’t been drained for 15 years,” said MacDuff. “It’s supposed to be drained every two years and re-grouted.”
The options presented to the City Council include addressing only the code and ADA violations at an estimated cost of $29 million; “renovate as new” to bring the building to bring it up to modern building codes at an estimated cost of $83 million, with some costs reimbursable; or build a new school at an estimated cost of $83.9 million, with some costs reimbursable.
MacDuff said another option is to preserve the auditorium and gymnasium in new construction. Sorano said the state reimbursement is not as high for new construction as it is for renovation, but that the same rate can be awarded if costs are comparable.
Superintendent Nicholas Fischer said the district is currently at risk of losing accreditation or federal funding and is on warning status with the accrediting agency New England Association of Schools and Colleges. He said New London is about eight years behind on recommendations from NEASC and eight months behind on providing a schedule to the state for addressing the issues.
“Basically they could pull the plug at any time,” said Fischer.