SCHOOLS: GRANT ELEMENTARY
By MARGAUX HENQUINET
Changes to Grant Elementary School’s gym and stage are underway.
On Friday, Feb. 25, it was discovered that a leaky steam pipe in the tunnels under the school’s stage caused condensation to form on the underside of the school’s gym stage. This caused a strong mildew smell, leading Principal Beverly Borduin and other members of Columbia Public Schools to close the gym that Saturday.
After an air quality report was completed on Feb. 25, Columbia Public Schools Environmental Specialist Randy Jackson and other members of the school district decided what actions needed to be taken, including cleaning and discarding items from the gym and stage — according to Environmental Protection Agency standards — making repairs to the pipes and tunnels and replacing the stage entirely.
A work crew familiar with the agency’s standards is now taking that first step, cleaning and discarding everything from the gym and stage, Borduin said. Next week, the crew will begin taking the stage apart, putting parts of it into special containers for disposal.
“It’s a slow process because everything has to be done by standards to make sure everything is safe at all times,” Borduin said.
Borduin said the gym should reopen after spring break, hopefully around April 4. The stage area will still be sealed off because repairs to the tunnels and pipes will still be underway, followed by the construction of the new stage.
She said if everything stays on schedule, the school hopes to have the stage completed by the beginning of May so it can be used for graduation in early June.
The air in the gym and surrounding hallways and classrooms is being tested often, Borduin said. However, she said the gym is so thoroughly sealed off that she doesn’t see how there could be a problem.
Staff and parents have access to the air quality report, which is posted on the school’s website.
On Thursday, March 10, Jackson will speak at Grant about school’s air quality report, and Borduin has invited parents to attend and ask questions. The event will take place at 7 p.m. in the school’s Eco Schoolhouse.
Borduin said she is not sure how much the construction will cost the school because she has been focused on the air quality and doing what is best for students. She said Columbia Public Schools is in charge of the financial aspect of the process.
The school will suffer some sentimental losses.
As part of Grant’s celebration for the 100th day of its 100th school year, students covered banners with their handprints in the school’s colors, blue and yellow. But because the banners hang above the stage and are made of a porous material that might be holding onto mold spores, Borduin is unsure if the school will be able to keep them — they might need to make new ones.
Also unsure is the fate of the world flags that hang in the gym, one for each country represented by Grant’s international students — a long-standing tradition, Borduin said. The flags having been collected over the last 17 to 18 years. Borduin said they might be able to clean the flags, but said she has a chart and map of which countries are represented in case the flags need to be replaced.
She said the hardest part for the students was seeing the gym closed. They have good memories there of physical education classes, meal times and performances on the stage.
“I could see they were sad that first day,” Borduin said.
But now they’re excited, she said, wondering what their new gym and stage will look like.
“They’ve been very positive, and that reflects how staff and parents feel, too,” Borduin said.
Though the closure of the gym has lead to some changes in Grant’s day-to-day operations, Borduin said students, staff and parents have all had good attitudes throughout the process because they all want to see steps taken for the air quality to be good and for the gym and stage to be set right.
“We’ve had to make do, and everyone has been doing really well with that,” she said.
Gym teacher Laura Dye has been conducting classes outside, weather permitting, Borduin said. When the weather is bad, her classes are held in classrooms. Borduin said she saw one class where the desks were all pushed aside so the students could jump rope in the classroom and the hallway.
Because the school’s gym also served as its cafeteria, adjustments have also had to be made during meal times. The food line has been set up in a hallway, and two rooms in the school’s lower level have been converted to what they are calling the “Cafés.” One was a first-grade classroom, so students had to be moved to a different part of the building; the other was the art room, so during lunch times the art teacher has to teach in the students’ classrooms. Tables and chairs had to be added to the rooms to create the Cafés.
“We had to do a lot of work to get it ready, but it’s working very well,” Borduin said.
Borduin said it can get pretty crowded, but the students have really enjoyed the smaller space of the Cafés, with 60 students in a room at a time instead of the 120 at a time in the gym.
“We call ourselves happily crowded,” she said.