South Egremont School awaiting warmer weather to finish lead remediation

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EGREMONT — Wild weather has pushed back the date for when students can begin attending classes at a schoolhouse with a lead problem.

Contractors need a 24-hour period of temperatures at least 45 degrees and a few weeks of mild weather to do lead remediation work on the exterior of South Egremont School and around the windows of the building, according to Beth Regulbuto, superintendent of the Southern Berkshire Regional School District.

Members of the Egremont Select Board had hoped students would be able to attend classes in town after the district's February vacation. Surfaces have been scraped and prepared to be sealed, but the weather has not cooperated.

"We have contracted with the painter, and as soon as those conditions can be met, the work will be done," Regulbuto said.

Students, on hiatus since 2016, were once more expected to attend classes at the 1881 schoolhouse in the fall, but that was delayed by the summertime discovery of lead on the interior and exterior of the two-room building. The 13 students enrolled in the South Egremont early kindergarten and kindergarten programs have been attending classes with their teacher at Undermountain Elementary School in Sheffield.

Egremont and the school district have been sparring over the fate of the South Egremont School since it was first put on hiatus as a cost-saving measure. The town sued the district, and the matter was settled outside court in 2017. The agreement reached provided the South Egremont School with a 2018-2019 operating budget and the promise from the district to return an educational program. At the time of the agreement, the possible presence of lead wasn't a consideration.

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In preparation for reopening, Egremont spent $350,000 to renovate the school over the summer, including foundation repairs. But tests conducted because of the age of the building revealed lead at high concentrations on the exterior of the building, windowsills and porch. Air and soil tests also showed lead, but at levels not considered dangerous to human health. Lead can cause developmental problems in people, especially children.

Southern Berkshire Regional School District officials barred students from attending classes in the school while lead was present. Meanwhile, Egremont officials and South Egremont School student parents were confident there was no substantial risk of lead poisoning and were eager for students to attend classes at the schoolhouse.

In late December, town officials and the School Committee came to an agreement about how best to remove lead, improve building safety and reintroduce students to the school.

Regulbuto said once the weather cooperates and the building is certified safe, students will return.

"The building will be again certified that the work has addressed the issues," Regalbuto said. "When the results are received, the students in the South Egremont program will return to the school building within seven days."

Kristin Palpini can be reached at kpalpini@berkshireeagle.com, @kristinpalpini, 413-629-4621.


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