BELLOWS FALLS -- The students of Bellows Falls Middle School will be in their classrooms on Monday, ending a saga of postponements and disappointment caused by heavy renovations.
The school's 257 pupils in grades 5 through 8 will be getting back to the academic grid for the first time since June, after having missed 13 days.
Originally slated for Aug. 28, the first day of school was rescheduled for Monday, Sept. 10, but failure to pass an inspection forced School Superintendent Chris Kibbe and BFMS Principal Heidi Moccia to move the date to Monday, Sept. 17. Students will enter the building through the front entrance.
Kibbe said no vacation time will be taken away and all efforts will be made to avoid having to stretch the school year into the summer. He said, however, there is a possibility of holding school on some Saturdays to make up for the missed days.
"That would be a low-impact way of dealing with it," he said on Thursday.
As only part of the building will be used, BFMS needed -- and received -- a certificate of occupancy from the Vermont Department of Public Safety on Thursday. Kibbe told the Reformer last Friday there are several inspections to pass before state inspectors will issue a certificate. Two different inspections -- one on the sprinkler system, which passed, and of the fire alarm system, which did not -- were conducted on Thursday, Sept. 6.
Kibbe said the problem with the fire alarm
He said he attended Thursday's final inspection along with BFMS Principal Heidi Moccia, Clerk of the Works Scott McKusick, people from Trumbull-Nelson Construction Company, Mike Harty (the school board's representative to the renovations) and a state inspector.
"It went great," Kibbe said, adding that there was just one issue with ceiling tile on the second floor. He said there was a ceiling that was unfinished, which is perfectly fine as long as the sprinkler heads are facing upward. Kibbe said people involved with installing the sprinkler system went through and turned all the heads downward, resulting in the ceiling needing to be completed.
Kibbe said it was taken care of and looks great now.
He also said there have been other inspections almost daily since last week. He said getting all the inspections and fire safety approvals was one part of finishing renovations and the other part is preparing the spaces to be occupied.
Kibbe said one final cleaning will be done in the school before Monday and the teachers will need the time to get their classrooms ready.
The superintendent said everyone involved is thrilled school will start soon.
"What a relief. We're all exhausted," he said. "It's tough because when this is going on you're really in the hands of the construction company and the people issuing the permits. There is really nothing more you can do."
Kibbe said he understands how frustrated people must have been when the first of day of school was twice postponed and he knows many wonder why the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union didn't seek an alternative solution, like setting up makeshift buildings throughout the village for the students until the school building was ready.
"Having students at five or six different locations was just not a viable solution," he said. "I know a whole lot of people are mightily upset and I feel bad about that."
He added, however, he thinks parents will be very impressed if they come by and see the work that has been done.
Moccia, entering her second year as principal at the school, said it was upsetting to have to make the call informing faculty and school families the first day had been moved a second time.
"I think the students want to be in school. I think they miss school. I think they're a little tired of summer break and they're ready to come back," she said at the WNESU office last week.
Kibbe previously told the Reformer the Rockingham School Board, at its latest meeting, authorized him and Moccia to postpone the first day of school.
The superintendent also wanted to clarify a few things about the construction work being done. He said only the ground floor, third floor and a few rooms on the first floor are being occupied by workers. The second floor and remaining sections of the first one will have work done while the children are in school. The workers and the students will be kept apart, he said.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.