School construction shifts into higher gear this week

Health and safety plan expected to be in place at Princeton school sites.

By: Jeff Milgram
   This promises to be a busy week for construction in the Princeton Regional Schools.
   The school district plans to put its construction health and safety plan into effect this week and complete work on an extensive ventilation system designed to keep fumes from roofing adhesive from entering the elementary schools.
   And work on the foundation for the science wing and performing arts center will begin at Princeton High School.
   "We’re back in the proactive mode," Michael Mostoller, chairman of the school board’s Facilities Committee, said after Friday’s committee meeting. "We’re ready to go back to work."
   And, he said, work on the district’s $81.3 million school renovation and expansion project will not be halted again in response to complaints about health and safety issues arising from construction.
   "I think we’ve been remarkably responsive," Mr. Mostoller said.
   Epic Management, the district’s construction management company, has been told to be sensitive to parent and staff complaints and to resolve them, he said.
   Construction was all but halted during December as the heating and air conditioning subcontractor designed and fabricated a $130,000 system of ventilators that is expected to keep fumes from a roofing adhesive from entering the buildings. Parents have complained that fumes have made students and staff sick at Littlebrook and Johnson Park schools.
   "We’re hoping that all the ventilation work will be completed by next week," Mr. Mostoller said Friday.
   The district has spent $750,000 to remedy health and safety issues raised by parents.
   The construction has been plagued by wet weather this past spring. A new timeline predicts completion of the elementary schools will be pushed back by as much as nine months.
   The district will issue the health and safety plan the beginning of this week. The plan will regulate construction practices and procedures for the use of chemicals. The plan was written by a consultant and reviewed by district, union, municipal and state officials.
   The district is also negotiating with its contractors the cost of the change orders, some of which the board believes are issues between the contractor and subcontractors.
   Change orders totaling $568,827 have been authorized for the four elementary schools and John Witherspoon Middle School and another $530,000 are pending, according to Stephanie Kennedy, the district’s business administrator. That represents approximately 50 percent of the total contingency funds available for those schools, she said.
   There is $3.5 million set aside in contingency funds for all six schools and the board expects to use $1.5 million, board President Charlotte Bialek has said.
   By spending its contingency funds, the board will be unable to include "alternate add-ons," desirable optional features included in the design but not part of the project’s main specifications.
   "We’re close to the edge at the elementary schools," board Vice President Anne Burns said Friday. "We’re projecting the change orders … will deplete the contingency funds."
   After the foundations are poured at PHS, the steel skeleton will go up.
   But the construction won’t be all that noticeable for a while.
   "It won’t look like much for the next month," Ms. Bialek said.