LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Students are expected to return to Pinelands Regional High School on Wednesday after months of split sessions at the nearby junior high due to a roof project gone wrong, but some parents are still wary.
“Until I get a final report, I don’t know,” said Parent Dane Apgar, of Little Egg Harbor Township. “And I still have a lot of questions. I called the board president, and I’m waiting for an answer.”
Apgar has been acting as a spokesman for the group Parents on a Mission, which organized after the split sessions started. The group has about 30 members.
Acting Superintendent Cheryl Stevenson said Friday she wants to be as transparent as possible in the steps the district is taking to make sure the school is safe to occupy.
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“We’re doing everything we possibly can as thoroughly as we can to assure the community and the public,” she said. “We’re doing our very best to try to quell some of the concern.”
A letter posted on the district website, dated Jan. 4, states that staff will return to the high school Tuesday, with students returning Wednesday to resume regular full-day schedules.
The plans for the remainder of the high school year call for shortened lunch periods to make up for lost hours during the extended split-session schedule.
“The modified schedule will assure adherence to the credit-hour time needed to meet graduation requirements,” the letter states.
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Stevenson said plans to reopen this week are on track.
“The only hurdle we have to clear is just the final cleanup of the building, which is being done by our crew,” she said.
An air test completed this past week came back clear, but she was still awaiting a written report expected to arrive this weekend.
The Pinelands Regional School District is made up of about 1,580 students in grades seven through 12 from Little Egg Harbor Township, Bass River Township, Tuckerton and Eagleswood Township and consists of a junior high and high school.
Students at Pinelands Regional High School, which serves grades 10, 11 and 12, started split sessions in October after a roofing screw fell on a student. Prior to that, the school was closed for several days due to asbestos contamination from the roof project and subsequent air-quality tests.
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The controversy peaked in December with the resignation of interim Superintendent Maryann Banks. Banks had been serving in the chief leadership position at the school for almost two years while the district looked for a full-time superintendent.
Stevenson, the district director of curriculum, was named Banks’ replacement until the end of the year.
The roofing project started over the summer. Some parents have questioned the methods and work schedule used by the contractor to replace the asbestos roof. Apgar, who has two sons in the district, said he isn’t sure whether he will let his kids attend Tuesday.
“There’s a lot of concern amongst the parents that during that roofing job the ventilation system was left open,” he said, adding fibers could have gone into the ductwork.
The letter from Jan. 4 details the checklist required for students to be able to safely re-enter the high school. Almost all of the items have been marked as completed, including cleanup of the playground and exterior perimeter of the building; removal/abatement of floor tiles on the second floor; inspection of all floor tiles throughout the building; cleanup of the D-wing classrooms, HVAC system and hallway; “flushing out” the building; and air-quality tests.
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After the building is cleaned, there will be walkthroughs Tuesday open to the public, Stevenson said.
Although the students are returning, there is still much more work to do at the high school building as part of a $53 million rehabilitation project approved by district voters last year.
Stevenson said the project engineer is expected to make a presentation at the board meeting Jan. 17 about what options the district has to complete the necessary repairs.
“It’s a laundry list of items,” she said of the multiphase project.
Additional work includes HVAC, high school exterior walls, window and door replacement, and additional roof work.
Stevenson said she could not speak to what had transpired with the roofing project prior to her being named acting superintendent, but that going forward there will be transparency throughout the process.
“We have to trust what our environmental experts have told us, and they’ve been very, very cooperative with us and helped us in every step of the way in making sure we’re doing what we have to do to make sure the building is as safe as possible,” Stevenson said.