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Water crisis might delay Edgewood school's opening

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The recent water crisis could delay the opening of Kanawha County's new "school of the future."

When Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency in January after Freedom Industries' chemical leak into the Elk River, the construction crews building Edgewood Elementary School stopped working, out of fear of the chemical's effects on the bricks and mortar - not to mention their health.

The workers were worried about the MCHM-contaminated water's potential impact on the color of the mortar and the effects it might have on its durability, and halted the project's progress until recently, according to Chuck Wilson, facilities manager for Kanawha County Schools.

"The masons were concerned, not only about the color of the mortar, but the strength of the mortar. We had a new ingredient in the mortar - you don't want the bricks falling off the building," Wilson said. "When the water crisis hit, the governor told the masons they're not even supposed to touch the water."

"It had a direct impact on the schedule of the completion for the project," Wilson said.

After those masons left, Sissonville-based contractor Carpenter Reclamation Inc. began working on the project. Wilson didn't know exactly when that happened, but believes it was before the state of emergency was lifted in late February.

The school, located near Edgewood Country Club in Charleston, was supposed to be finished by July 1, in time to welcome students next fall.

Wilson said the hiatus imposed by the water crisis and the recent bout of extreme winter weather could push that date back, but school officials are working on contingency plans.

"We're running behind, but contractors have assured us we have a plan to catch up. In construction projects, we have what's known as a 'critical path' that requires one task to be completed before you begin another. You need to put the masonry up before you measure for windows, and, of course, you have to measure for windows before you order windows," Wilson said. "One thing leads to the next."

State School Building Authority Board members couldn't believe their ears when Kanawha County Superintendent Ron Duerring told them about the predicament at a meeting Tuesday, with Superintendent of Schools Jim Phares joking that the chemical leak is "the gift that keeps on giving."

The $21 million, 52,000-square-foot school will consolidate J.E. Robins and Watts elementary schools, and has been called "museum-like." The school will have a focus on environmental health, with signage throughout the building aimed to teach students about energy use, air quality, solar power and other issues.

The school will feature four large instructional centers that house 60 to 75 students at a time, with four to five teachers guiding students, turning the focus away from the traditional classroom setup. However, traditional class settings also will be available. The school also will emphasize technology use and self-directed learning.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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