West Elementary School is free of mold and “everything’s dry at that building,” Chris Arnold, director of buildings and grounds for the school district, told members of the Grand Forks School Board on Tuesday, April 14.
But further work on the school’s HVAC and water drainage systems and waterproofing is estimated to cost $1.85 million, according to reports by local engineering firms. With this information, coupled with the recent discovery of elevated radon levels inside the school, the board agreed with school district administration that West should be closed for the next school year.
The board has recommended that this latest information on West will be given to the 50-member Facilities Task Force to consider as part of its analysis of all district facilities as a whole, as it works to develop recommendations to present to the board this fall, including a referendum next year. As of April 9, the task force moved from meeting biweekly to meeting weekly via video-conferencing.
Delaying construction work at West will allow the district time to pursue FEMA funds to pay for that work, said Scott Berge, business manager for Grand Forks Public Schools. Federal governmental responses to the school district on this matter “are kind of at a standstill,” due to the coronavirus pandemic, he said.
“If we’re able to apply to FEMA and can get potentially significant funds for remodeling (at West), that would be better than dipping into our district project funds,” and the work would be done after the new school year begins, Berge said.
The unacceptable levels of radon in a couple of locations within West School “were quite high (and such levels) are usually found where poor air exchange is happening,” Arnold told the board. “Radon is a serious concern.”
West’s radon results, provided by the state’s Department of Environmental Quality which conducted the tests, prompted district administrators to recommend to the School Board that the school be closed for the 2020-21 school year.
West students and teachers were relocated, their classrooms intact, to Discovery Elementary. Their classes were held there from March 2 until all schools were closed by order of Gov. Doug Burgum, effective March 16, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. North Dakota schools remain closed indefinitely.
In other action, the board voted to request that proposed language changes in the school district’s non-discrimination and anti-harassment policy be further reviewed by members of the board’s Policy Review Committee, headed by Cynthia Shabb.
The language changes involve wording relative to sexual orientation and gender expression in an effort to promote a more inclusive school environment and to protect people who identify as LGBT+ from bullying, harassment or other forms of victimization.
The Policy Review Committee plans to meet and refine the language for recommendation to the board at its next regular meeting on April 28.
The School Board also voted to continue paying employees for all regularly scheduled hours of work from April 11 through May 15. Board members plan to revisit the district’s pay practices at their May 11 meeting.