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Riverside Elementary School opening will be delayed due to construction debris cleanup

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The first day of school will be delayed a day for students at Riverside Elementary School so that a private contractor and custodial staff for the Princeton Public Schools can clean up dust and debris in the school over the Labor Day weekend before students return. Riverside is scheduled to open on Thursday, Sept. 5. Other schools will open in Wednesday, Sept. 4, as scheduled.

Teachers at Riverside will not be able to access their classrooms until Tuesday morning after the cleanup is complete. Riverside teachers complained earlier this week about conditions in the school, including dust and debris, and expressed concerns about asbestos and air quality in the building. Planet Princeton reached out to a representative for the teachers union Friday night but has not received a response yet.

Superintendent of Schools Steve Cochrane told Planet Princeton the district has contracted a private cleanup firm for the weekend for $14,400. “We believe the actual payment may be less, but we will look to recoup the costs as appropriate from the contractor,” he said.

A carpeting company was also at the school on Saturday, and a private firm will do air quality tests on Monday. A health inspector will then return to inspect the building.

“We will always prioritize the wellness of our students and staff,” Cochrane told Planet Princeton. “While the installation of the HVAC at Riverside went extremely well, high quality clean up needs a bit more time.”

Cochrane informed parents of Riverside students about the delay in an email on Friday night.

“As you are aware, our school has been the site of a major construction project this summer with the installation of new HVAC units in most of our classrooms. This work has had a profound impact on our infrastructure and our normal process and timeline for school preparation – particularly in these waning days of August. Our highest priority is always for the health and wellness of our staff and students, and thus, we are writing to address some of the concerns that we have heard from both parents and staff members and to share with you our plan for the next week,” Cochrane wrote. “Our building currently has significant levels of dust and debris left from the construction this summer, and we are hard at work to ensure that it is clean and safe for our Riverside family when school resumes.”

Riverside is the first elementary school to receive new air conditioning and heating units as part of the $27 million bond referendum voter in Princeton approved in 2018. The school received 28 HVAC units. New air conditioning units will be installed at Littlebrook School, Community Park School and Johnson Park School in the summer of 2020.

David Harding, the new director of facilities, is overseeing all construction projects in the district. The district also hired a construction management firm, Epic Management, to help oversee the implementation all of the referendum construction projects. The firm is the same construction management firm the school district used to oversee the implementation of the 2001 bond referendum.

Cochrane wrote that this week district officials have:

-Followed all legal guidelines for testing for asbestos, and received a report that there was no trace of it discovered at any location in the building.

-Hired a contractor to make sure that new tile is put in place to cover all areas where the old horizontal ventilators were located in classrooms.

-Hired an outside firm that specializes in big cleaning projects to work alongside the district’s custodial staff over the Labor Day weekend to thoroughly clean all areas of the building and remove accumulated dust that the contractors failed to clean when they finished their work.

All rooms at Riverside will also be checked again to eliminate any hazards, such as exposed pipes or wiring. Welcome back activities planned for Riverside, including the pre-K orientation, the new family orientation, and the “meet and greet with a treat,” will still take place on Tuesday.

Students at Riverside Elementary will have to make up the missed day of school on June 2 of 2020, which is an in-service day for teachers in the district.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

4 Comments

  1. How lucky are we that the Teachers have a union since the safety of our children is not of a concern to our own public schools? Thank you to the union on this one for doing its job.
    If it weren’t for the teachers union the kids would be once again after millions of dollars of wasted money, tens of hundreds of millions of dollars of wasted money
    What bout all the non-union parents who could not go to work on Wednesday? This is shocking even for PPS… to have this on the front page of the Town Topics.. and to realize wow it is not just Community Park that does not meet basic environmental standards…

    How can the district have just taken $25 mln more to do nothing about any of the very basics of the educational system… how many more fancy lunches, fancy guidance offices, football fields covered in Roundup and causing concussions before somebody does something about the fiscal mismanagement of our public schools?

  2. Will director of facilities David Harding offer an explanation as to what went wrong with their schedule?

  3. I guess this happens when one hires a company that has not done the best of work in the past, and when a public schools board count on the people who support public schools and would sign a blank check in the name of public education.

  4. Ok great they are doing this now, after the teachers complained. But why didn’t the many layers of people being paid – architect, project manager, PPS Facilities, realize that the cleanup wasn’t done?

Please share your thoughts on this story.

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