Editor's note: With school district officials still unsure if a final occupancy permit will be issued in time, a decision on whether or not to open the Indian Valley Elementary School on Friday was still pending as of the deadline for this article. If the decision was made to close Friday, Vance Varner, director of secondary education, said the district would do what it does on snow days: alert parents through the district's Sky Alert system and through local radio stations.
LEWISTOWN - Thursday's regular meeting of the Mifflin County School District Board of Directors was dominated by the issue of the renovation project at the school, which did open on time Thursday, even though some inspection work was ongoing through the school day.
A crowd of more than 40 area residents packed the board room of the school district's administration building to express a multitude of concerns about the safety of students, addressing such issues as construction workers in student areas, dust, chemical smells and overall disarray in the building.
Tammy Wagner presents what she claims is a list of violations which were outstanding as of the first day of school during the Mifflin County School Board meeting
Thursday in Lewistown.
Sentinel photo by BRADLEY?KREITZER
Prior to the public comment period, which lasted two hours, Superintendent James Estep addressed the gathering, noting that prior to the opening of the building Thursday morning, he, Commonwealth Code Inspector Bud Swartz and representatives of Brown Township, completed a walk-through of the building to address safety concerns.
"I personally attended this walk through with Mr. Swartz, as did members of Reynolds Construction, McKissick Architects and representatives of the district's maintenance department and administration," Estep commented. "During the walk through process, he pointed out anything of concern. Contractors and/or internal district staff were immediately dispatched to address those needs. His overall assessment is that the building is safe to operate."
Following the public comment period, discussion centered on the legality of allowing students without the proper occupancy permit. Mike Cline, the on-site manager for Reynolds, said the existing permit is still valid for phase 2 and 3 of the project, however, a temporary permit is expected to be issued Friday morning. As of the deadline for this article, Cline was still attempting to contact Swartz to see if he can do that earlier than the original 8 a.m. in order to let parents know whether or not the school would open on Friday.
Several members of the board questioned the opening of the building on Thursday without the temporary occupancy permit in hand.
"The legality of not having that is potentially a major issue," board member James Hurlburt said. "And the fact that we didn't know about it, we should have canceled school today."
In the event of a delay in obtaining the necessary paperwork, Estep said some areas in phase 2 and 3, namely the school's auditorium, could be used to house kids until the permit is secured in writing.
During Thursday's walk through, Estep said Swartz noted the following areas that needed further attention: water fountains on the second floor (which was completed in the afternoon), improve steady water flow in certain restroom sinks (completed in the afternoon), temporary and/or emergency lighting additions in some areas (to be completed Thursday morning), a second testing of the fire suppression system in the kitchen (passed in the afternoon), installation of electrical outlet covers on some outlets in certain offices and/or restrooms (in progress in the afternoon), and providing fine grain stone outside the kindergarten wing where macadam had been torn out (to be completed first thing Friday morning.) Estep added that section between the building and the playground is scheduled to be repaved.
The public comment period featured dozens of area parents and grandparents of students at the school. Many expressed concerns for their little ones' safety first and foremost.
Mary Rogers noted a couple of concerns, including a strong odor of construction glue when she entered the building. She also questioned the security regarding the front door to the building. On that issue, Cline responded, "All of the doors are locked. One of the doors is magnetic and can be released from the office. I understand that eventually, a camera system will also be installed."
Not all the comments were negative, however.
Dianne Shearer, president of the Association of Mifflin County Educators, acknowledged some parts of the building are still in disarray, however, at no time did the teachers working there find the building not to be safe.
"We toured the building," Shearer said. "We saw a few things like wires, etc. But they were fixed."
Shearer said with a little more time, none of this controversy would even be happening.
"We don't control the school calendar," she noted. "The staff at Indian Valley Elementary School dedicated numerous hours, coming in at all hours of the night and even spending their own money on things they felt they needed. When we walked through there, every classroom was ready to go. I'd like to thank the faculty and staff at IV Elementary for their dedication in making our children safe and secure."
One member of the audience, Patricia Johnson, was visibly upset when she said her granddaughter was placed on the wrong school bus Thursday and ended up being dropped off in the Reeds Gap area of New Lancaster Valley.
"She was found along the road by a neighbor," Johnson said.
Pam Rosenberg, a resident of Juniata County and a former school director there, said her grandson attends IV Elementary and the boy's mother called her crying after attending a walk through of the facility on Wednesday.
"She said the school is not safe to be in," Rosenberg said. "She said she was told there would be no work done while the kids were there. It's amazing to hear they are doing this today. I don't know what kinds of chemicals they're being exposed to. It's not a construction zone, it's more like a war zone from the pictures I saw. Anything that compromises children is totally unacceptable."
Many of those expressing their thoughts were quite concerned with the safety of children with construction workers present in the facility Many asked if the workers have background security clearances. Cline assured them that all workers have security clearance and wear badges identifying them as qualified to be on the site.
Margaret Matthews expressed concerns about construction debris being close to children.
"If they can pick up razor blades, needles or whatever construction workers use, isn't that child endangerment?" she asked.
Kelly Sunderland said said she did not send her son to the school on Thursday out of fear for his safety. And, she said she isn't sending him at all until she is sure he will not be at risk.
"My son said he was scared something might fall on his head," she said. "We found razor blades on a cart outside a first grade classroom. If you can't make it safe when parents are coming to see it, how are we supposed to feel? I can't send my child to a place where I feel for his safety. There's so much craziness out there, we shouldn't have to be worrying about his environment. He is not going until I feel he is safe."
In addressing some of the concerns, Estep said this is a three-phase project that was never designed to be completely finished before the school year began.
"From the start of this project, never at any point did we say the construction would be done when school started. It's not scheduled to be done until the end of February."
Estep did say that another walk-through of the building for parents is scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, and he urged parents to come again at that time.
Additional agenda items scheduled for consideration after this story's deadline included:
-The addition of Helen Bender, Luann Riden, Tracy Bastress and Heather Kohler to the cafeteria substitute list.
-A recommendation that Dana Shank be changed from part-time status to the cafeteria substitute list effective Aug. 9 at her request.
-Approval of bus/van drivers for the 2013-14 school year.
-A request to provide transportation services to the following parochial and private schools: Belleville Mennonite, Mifflin County Christian Academy, Beth-El Christian Day School, Sacred Heart, Valley View Christian, and Coffee Run School.
-Approval of bus stops for the 2013-14 school year.
-The resignation of Sarah Watson, literacy coach/reading specialist at Lewistown Elementary School, due to personal reasons.
The resignation of Cynthia Pierce, school nurse at several schools, due to personal reasons.
-The hiring of Casey Drake as a permanent first grade teacher at Strodes Mills Elementary School effective at the start of the 2013-14 school year.
-A recommendation to hire Kierstin Walker as a temporary second grade teacher at East Derry Elementary from approximately Sept. 7 through the end of the 2013-14 school year or less.
-The hiring of Lara Young as a permanent first grade teacher at Strodes Mills Elementary School effective at the start of the 2013-14 school year.
-The hiring of Crystal Fabina as a permanent second grade teacher at Lewistown Elementary School effective at the start of the 2013-14 school year.
-The hiring of Becca Zook as a temporary learning support teacher at the junior high school effective for the 2013-14 school year or less.
-The hiring of Sara O'Neal as a Title I language arts K-3 literacy coach districtwide effective at the start of the 2013-14 school year.
-The hiring of Emily Walker as a temporary third grade teacher at Lewistown Elementary School effective for the 2013-14 school year or less.
-The resignation of Brooke Kodish, itinerant emotional support teacher at the middle and junior high schools, due to relocation.
-The resignation of Nanette Anslinger, elementary computer teacher at Lewistown Elementary and East Derry Elementary, due to relocation.
-The hiring of Joshua Manning as a permanent learning support teacher at the middle school effective at the start of the 2013-14 school year.
-The hiring of Nicholas Wilson as a permanent learning support teacher at Lewistown Elementary School effective at the start of the 2013-14 school year.
-The hiring of Sylvia Franklin as a permanent Title I reading specialist at Strodes Mills Elementary School effective at the start of the 2013-14 school year.
-Approval of the following teachers to serve as mentors for the 2013-14 school year: Abigail Goss, Catherine Borger, Kimbra Eckley and Mandy Maxwell.
-The following deletions from the 2013-14 substitute teacher list: Shannon Amici-Snook, Carol Booher, Kari Cullen, Michelle Edmison, Seth Kilmer, Chelsey Markel, Steven McLaughlin, Violet Metzler, Richard Yingling, Casey Drake, Brooke Kodish, Ronald Lynch, Emily Mater, Nicholas Wilson and Dennis Young.
-The following additions to the substitute teacher list: Jean Aungst, elementary; Anthony Berich, elementary; Karen Gehrett, English & reading; Paula Getz, elementary; Debra Hayes, elementary; David Howe, biology & general science; Cheryl Kauffman, elementary; Robison Lauver, math; W. Catherine Lechien, socially & emotionally disturbed & library science; David McCachren, physics & math; Georgia Olson, health & phys ed; Charles Patterson, general science, earth & space, chemistry; Robert Schwartz, biology & general science; James Searfoss, communications, secondary principal; Megan Shipe, early childhood; Karen Soccio, early childhood; Angela Wagner, elementary; Shawn Wagner, social studies; Joanne Williams, elementary; Sharon Wilson, Spanish; Stephanie Yetter, elementary; Alesia Baumgardner, elementary; Jaime Hess, art; Kelsey Price, elementary; Marvin Reinke, emergency; Kelsey Rhodes, early childhood; Angela Wagner, elementary; Katlyn Weaver, early childhood; and Margaret Zook, mentally retarded, elementary school guidance.
-The hiring of Sabrina DeVecchis as a paraprofessional at the high school for seven hours per day effective at the start of the 2013-14 school year.
-Recommended approval of a memorandum of understanding between the district and the Association of Mifflin County Educators regarding the interpretation and implementation of the MC Online education program, a partnership to reduce cyber school costs and provide opportunities to educate kids who otherwise might go to a charter school.
-The resignation of Ashley Suydam, first assistant field hockey coach.
-The hiring of Chelsea Zook as first assistant field hockey coach.
-The hiring of the following coaches for the 2013-14 school year: Travis Eckley, assistant junior high softball; and Mark Shilling, assistant junior high boys basketball.
-Approval of the following volunteer coaches: Jerold Schnell, football and junion high softball; Ashley Suydam, field hockey; and Adam Stout, wrestling.
-Recommend approval for the Mifflin County Marching Band to attend the Tournament of Bands Atlantic Coast Championship Series Show on Sunday, Oct. 27 at Hershey Park Stadium.