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BENNINGTON — The discovery of asbestos in the Shaftsbury Elementary School may delay its opening.

Asbestos was found during work to improve the school's ventilation system. It must be removed before any further work can be done.

"We're at a bit of a standstill right now," said Principal Jeff Johnson. The board met for a special meeting on July 25 to award the contract for the project to Hayden Plumbing and Heating of Bennington for $159,245, and the duct replacement was scheduled to take place soon after. The hope was that the project, which is to improve air flow in the in the old wing of the building after readings showed carbon dioxide levels at higher than the recommended levels during the school day, would be completed before students returned to school. Now, however, that timeline is in jeopardy.

When the ceiling was removed, asbestos insulation was discovered on the pipes. A consultant was brought in to survey the situation and it was determined that the old duct-work could not be removed without disturbing the asbestos. "We can't do any ventilation work until we get rid of that asbestos," said Johnson.

Johnson said that the removal must be approved by the state of Vermont and the Environmental Protection Agency, which could take up to two weeks. An emergency waiver is available from the state, which Johnson said the school would pursue after a contractor had been hired to do the work. Once the plan is approved the removal will take five to seven days. With school scheduled to start on Sept. 5, the timeline to get the asbestos removed and the ventilation work done is tight.

"The timeline is kind of crunched up to the start of school," said Johnson. "If it does take us two weeks to get the permit from the state of Vermont, that will push us to the very end of August before they can even start the work, then five to seven days to get the work done, plus another couple days for the contractor to put the drop ceiling back in. That's going to push us past Sept. 5."

If the start of school is delayed for a week, it will not affect the timing of summer vacation, as schools in the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union already attend five days more than are required by the state. The Bennington school system is also considering the possibility of a similar delay depending on how its own construction projects progress in the next several weeks.

The board approved a bid to remove the asbestos at their meeting last week from Levaggi Environmental Contracting of Morrisville, Vermont for $15,775.

In terms of the ventilation project, one potential option, after the asbestos is removed, will be to leave the ceiling open and to have Hayden come in on evenings and weekends to replace the duct-work. Johnson said that if the project needs to be delayed until next June, the ceiling will just have to be torn down again at additional cost.

Superintendent Jim Culkeen said that the school will need to make an announcement relatively soon if they decide that the start of school must be delayed, so that parents will have time to make alternate plans for child-care.

Reach staff writer Derek Carson at 802-447-7567, ext. 122 or @DerekCarsonBB


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