Mitchell: Lots of activity happening in schools

Mitchell: Lots of activity happening in schools

CUMBERLAND – Extensive ventilation and air quality work is happening across all district schools, says Supt. Bob Mitchell, as school officials push to get students back in the classroom on or before Oct. 13.

Mayor Jeff Mutter, also updating the Town Council on the progress of the work last week, said the goal is to get as many students in front of teachers for in-person learning across all grades as early as possible.

He said there’s a lot of work going on and sometimes officials aren’t all that good about the messaging on it. They need to be more transparent about what’s being done and let families know that they’re turning over every rock and doing everything possible to remove bureaucratic hurdles to get the work finished, said Mutter.

Mitchell said Mutter makes a good point and he agrees that school officials could do more to get information to the public about the work being done. He said school officials have been in frequent contact with the mayor about the work, and public safety chiefs have also made offers to help. It’s “all hands on deck” to get the schools ready for a reopening, he said, and as educators, they want children back in schools “hopefully sooner rather than later.”

Councilor Lisa Beaulieu said she’s glad the district is taking steps to address its ventilation issues, and believes other districts wish they’d done the same thing. Air quality “became hugely important almost overnight,” she said, and she’s glad to see the district learning as it goes and getting better.

Beaulieu said she’d like to see a communication strategy include checklists of “must-dos for each school” that give concrete steps for what needs to be done to reopen each building. For example, a checklist might say that a school needs air purifiers, air circulators and one last thing before it can come online, she said, and putting that checklist out there will give parents the confidence that a reopening is really going to happen. This is an opportunity to steer the messaging a bit, she said, rather than making people rely on social media for their answers.

Councilor Stephanie Gemski said she’d like to see the district have a person available going forward to do routine inspections of systems at all schools similar to how an HVAC tech checks her home air conditioning every year or two to make sure it’s in fine working order. She said she thinks it’s sad that those routine visits haven’t happened in the past to identify broken equipment or other issues.

Mitchell replied that “the point is well-taken.” One of the issues when deciding funding each year is that, unlike a teacher, those people who work behind the scenes don’t always get as much attention, he said. Though the schools do have a regular routine of changing filters and such, he acknowledged that the district hasn’t given its HVAC systems the attention they need.

Mitchell said electricians have been on all roofs and learned that there are some bad motors that need to be replaced. Among other steps, the district has also ordered 200 air purification units that will supplement the work of univents in a number of rooms that need additional air purification.

Mitchell said he thinks students in grades kindergarten, 6 and 9 could transition back to school earlier than Oct. 13, and the plan is to get everyone else in as soon as possible. There is “lots and lots of activity” going on, he said, and the schools are putting all available resources into getting the buildings reopened.