The question on the minds of Lawrence School District residents, teachers and students is, why now?
Why in the middle of the school year did district officials decide to close the high school for up to eight weeks and implement a district-wide relocation of students?
“It is harder to close a school than it is to keep it open,” said Facilities Director Chris Milano. “We spoke with consultants and ultimately we made the decision [to close]. The electrical engineer said within two weeks after the storm we can run the system without problems, no flickering of lights, no brown outs. Through a visual inspection we saw the corrosion progressing last Tuesday (Jan. 14) and it was the opinion of the electrical engineer that we shouldn’t wait any longer [to close the school].”
Lawrence Teachers Association President Lori Skonberg said her organization wasn’t part of the decision-making process, but the LTA agreed the high school had to close. “However, we are unhappy with the fact that it took the district so long to come to this decision,” she said.
Electrical repair work now being done at Lawrence High School is expected to cost up to $15 million, school district officials said. The Hurricane Sandy-related damage forced the district to close the high school for up to eight weeks.
Money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is anticipated to cover 75 percent of the cost, the state and district will split the remaining 25 percent evenly, said Superintendent Gary Schall.
“Our business office doesn’t have the capacity to handle the billing for this,” Schall said. “We are putting out an RFP (request for proposal) for a financial consultant who will be responsible for billing.” That person will serve as a project manager, Schall added. In addition, the district will hire a public adjustor to advocate for the district in dealings with FEMA and its insurance company.
Milano said water — three feet and in some areas four feet — surged through the high school crawl space where several miles of wiring for the electrical and communications are strung underneath the buildings acre and a half of crawl space.