Gas valve issue at LHS due to construction error; process questioned

Gas valve issue at LHS due to construction error; process questioned

LINCOLN – The smell of gas inside Lincoln High School’s newly constructed culinary department prompted a call to the Fire Department and the evacuation of students and staff, leaving members of the project team wondering what went wrong.

Upon further review by members of the project team, it was determined that there was an issue with the automatic shut-off valves associated with four gas range stoves. The valves will need to be repaired and replaced, at a cost of $18,000.

The LHS Building Committee learned last week that the recently installed gas fittings in the culinary wing weren’t to specifications, the latest in a long string of issues with the LHS renovation project.

On Feb. 8, the School Committee voted to approve the valve replacement, with the expectation that the work would ultimately be approved during last Thursday’s Building Committee meeting. If it was not later approved by the Building Committee, the valve replacement would come out of the School Department budget.

When the issue of the culinary gas was brought to the Building Committee, Michael Babbitt expressed confusion about why the work was already approved. Armand Milazzo, non-instructional operations director, said the area filled up with gas “and the Fire Department had to get the people out of there.”

Asked how the oversight occurred, Chad Healey, of Colliers International, said pilot light detection systems are often built into units, but the appliances ordered for the culinary wing didn’t include a built-in leak detection system.

Supt. Larry Filippelli said the problem was out of anyone’s control, but that the school was left with “gas filling up in a room, the Fire Department needing to come, and people needing to be evacuated.”

Lincoln High School Principal Rob Mezzanotte said, “I could really go off for a minute about the amount of instructional opportunities kids are missing out on this year. I’ve got to be adamant about this. This is not good education right now, when a lot of our programs are being shorted.”

He added, “These kids have one opportunity in high school and there are a lot of things they’re missing out on right now.”

Babbitt said he would not vote to approve the work, but in renovating an aging building, “we knew this was going to happen sooner or later. It doesn’t make sense to just throw money at this and say ‘hurry up and get it done’ when we don’t know what we’re paying for,” he said, asking for a breakdown of the $18,000 price.

Healey said that information has been requested from Gilbane.

“We understand this is an emergency and we didn’t want to hold off until we had all of our ducks in a row before presenting this to you,” he said, to which Babbitt replied, “We don’t have any ducks.”

Turning the discussion back to student instruction, Mezzanotte said the decision isn’t about the money.

“The cost of delaying this, if we have to put this area offline for an extended period of time … we have a hard enough time getting students in the building this year given COVID. Many students state that programs like art and culinary are the reason they come to school,” he said. “By putting that program offline for a month or longer, we’re seriously impacting kids.”

The vote to approve the work passed, with Babbitt, O’Connell, and Public Works Director Michael Gagnon voting against.

Among other project changes discussed during the Feb. 11 meeting, a recent discovery of rotted material in the wing currently undergoing renovations will likely result in unforeseen costs to the project.

The exact cost impact was not yet known as of last week’s Building Committee meeting when Healey announced the finding.

He said construction company Gilbane alerted Colliers of the potentially rotted decking last week. Discovered near the second-floor bathrooms in the building’s “D-wing” during demolition, the field decking will likely need to be reworked, reinforced or replaced.

“This is a new discovery … an unforeseen condition that we encountered recently,” Healey said, adding that the entirety of phase three of the project on the second floor could be impacted.

“If it needs to be replaced, we’d be having to deal with the second floor slab. We’re looking to see if there’s something we can do structurally,” he said.

Asked by O’Connell whether the work would run to $50,000, $150,000 or $1 million, Healey said he couldn’t be sure yet. Colliers had scheduled a meeting late last week with SMMA, the project architect, to explore their options, and Healey said he didn’t feel comfortable providing a potential price tag for the work until then.

“It has the potential to be rather expensive and rather involved to handle,” he said.


Whoever made the mistake in the planning or contruction process needs to pay for this. Not the tax payers.