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Work set to begin on Salem school buildings

SALEM — As the school year winds to a close, staff at both Fisk and Soule elementary schools will soon be emptying their classrooms in preparation for summer renovations.

During the March town meeting, Salem voters approved a $16.2 million bond article funding major renovations at both schools, as well as minor repairs at Haigh Elementary School.

A separate article asking voters to spend another $805,000 toward heating, ventilation and air conditioning improvements failed this past spring.

At Tuesday night’s Salem School Board meeting, Superintendent Michael Delahanty shared details of this summer’s pending construction plans, which will include new floors and ceilings at both Fisk and Soule schools.

“The project is definitely moving along,” he told the board, noting that teachers at both schools had been given moving boxes to fill with their classroom items.

Once classes get out for the year, all classroom items will be stored in the schools’ libraries and gymnasiums over the summer months, allowing work crews free access.

Meanwhile, several decisions have yet to be made when it comes to flooring and ceiling finishes, the superintendent said.

Delahanty said the district construction committee has been meeting weekly with construction officials and architects to finalize decisions.

A final decision has yet to be made on whether the floors in the remodeled classrooms will be polished concrete or vinyl tile.

Proponents of concrete said it would be easier to maintain in the long run, since tile floors require annual stripping and waxing.

“When I say concrete, everyone thinks of the floors at Home Depot or something industrial looking,” Delahanty said. “But the architects have assured us this would look like an ordinary elementary school floor that could be painted to match the classroom walls.”

Keeping the classroom ceilings open rather than closing them off with tiles is another option.

Delahanty said he’s requested more information on both options, including some photos of examples of similar projects at other elementary schools before a final decision is made.

“These are very minor hurdles in the scheme of things,” the superintendent said. “I’m sure it won’t hold up our progress.”

With asbestos detected in the current tiles at both schools, containment efforts are also planned during the summer months.

Board Chairman Bernard Campbell, who serves on the construction committee, noted both schools are “of the older generation” and therefore had low ceilings to begin with.

“If we maintain a ceiling grid, space could be rather tight,” Campbell said. “We don’t have a lot of clearance space above the grid for some of the utilities that need to go there.”

Campbell said the opinions of community members must also be weighed.

“Will people find this type of ceiling attractive and interesting, or will they be of a different view?” he asked. “It balances the question of how standard we want all of our renovated schools to look: Do we want them to look like the other three in the first phase?”

Board member Brian Carney further noted that an open ceiling might present challenges due to lack of noise insulation as well as regular maintenance.

“Just the act of rain hitting the roof could get loud,” Carney said. “Plus we’d need to have someone up there cleaning it on a regular basis.”

Carney further questioned whether concrete floors might prove uncomfortable for teaching staff that spend many hours working on their feet.

“There’s a very big difference between cement and tile,” he said. “So I’d really like to hear how this works out in a school environment.”

The Salem School Board will meet again on June 18.

Sunday, 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.

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