Basement classrooms reopen after flooding

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
March 12, 2008

GUILFORD — Basement classrooms at Elisabeth C. Adams Middle School are scheduled to reopen today, after a weekend rainstorm caused severe flooding and displaced some students this week.

The school was never closed, but students with classes in the basement had to be relocated elsewhere in the 70-year-old school.

It is the second time this academic year the school has evacuated the basement rooms. Last fall, workers discovered black mold in one classroom, and the district closed all six basement classrooms while the area was cleaned.

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Forcella said three basement classes shared space in the other rooms Monday as the school district worked to repair water damage. On Tuesday, all of the classes had to move to other areas of the school as asbestos testing was done on the wallboard workers removed.

The testing proved normal and students should be back in their regular classrooms today.

The school flooded twice this weekend, according to school officials. Custodians first found flooding in classrooms Saturday morning following a night of heavy rain.

After inspecting the area, Director of Operations Clifford Gurnham discovered the water had mixed with hydraulic fluid from the building’s elevator. Gurnham called in the elevator company and a hazardous materials emergency response company to assist with the cleanup.

On Saturday afternoon, the rooms flooded again, with water in all areas of the basement. Custodians called the Fire Department to help in pumping water out of the area, a process that took several hours.

Gurnham said portions of the wall boards were removed Sunday in an effort to prevent mold from sprouting again. The most heavily flooded room had about 3½ inches of water in it, he said.

“We did a thermal imaging scan that basically told us which walls had absorbed water, been infiltrated with the water, so based upon that thermal imaging those were the walls we decided to remove and replace,” Gurnham said.

Gurnham said the hydraulic fluid, which overflowed from the elevator’s tank into the basement hallway and a classroom, made the floor slippery and had to be treated as hazardous waste, but the area is now clean.

Board of Education Chairman William Bloss said the board recently decided to put a $65,000 bonding item on the April referendum to rework the drainage system at Adams in an effort to avoid more flooding. After the floods last spring, he said, work was done to make sure there were no obstructions in the gutters or drains.

“In retrospect, I think there was a good argument that the location of that building is not where you would locate a similar building today,” Bloss said. “The water table is very high … (and) there’s a very active wetland on the south border of the property.”

The school district is in the midst of a years-long process to assess conditions at Adams and Guilford High School.

A facilities task force that has been reviewing the schools put the cost of a new, relocated middle school at $69.8 million, and for a “renovate as new” project at $59.7 million.

“I think we’re all hopeful that there is some fix that we can do this summer that is going to at least address the flooding that is a lot less expensive than a new school,” Bloss said.

“If we are not going to be able to hold classes in the basement because we cannot solve the flooding problem, then that is going to be something that we have to factor in when we are considering the alternatives.”

It was unclear Tuesday how long the repairs will take. There is little extra space in the school, so the displaced teachers had to store their materials on carts and move between empty rooms during the school day.

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