Tolland schools now open after delay due to crumbling school


TOLLAND, Conn. (WTNH) — While it’s a little later than planned, students in Tolland started their school year on Tuesday, September 3rd. The delay was due to a crumbling foundation at an elementary school.

This is a problem plaguing so many buildings in this part of the state. When Birch Grove Primary School was built, the foundation included the mineral pyrrhotite. No one knew that until the town tested all its school last year.

“The core testing revealed that Pyrrhotite was in the foundation and was going to cause a problem,” said schools superintendent Dr. Walter Willett. “Our engineer told us we had to be out of the school by the end of the school year last year.”

The solution was to put portable modular units on what was the soccer field. Students arriving for their first day walked right by the old school. It is now blocked off by construction fencing and scheduled for demolition.

As Blake Flynn walked to his first day of kindergarten, News8 asked him what he had heard about the new school.

“There’s portables and there’s a new cafeteria,” Blake said.

Blake is excited about the new setup, but a lot of parents were wary. That’s why superintendent Willett posted a video showing that the inside of the modular school units looks just like a regular school. Blake’s mom Cynthia Flynn got a sneak peak.

“Walking down the hallway, you really feel like you’re walking down a hallway,” Flynn said. “So I think it will help the kids feel at home, and I think the parents are much more anxious than the kids. Once they get in there, they’re just going to be in school with their friends.”

The district delayed the first day of class for all the schools in town so they would all be on the same schedule for the year.

Tolland’s Superintendent posted about Birch Grove Primary School on Sunday:

Good morning Birch Grove Families (and the Tolland Community overall),

I just came back from the BGPM (Birch Grove Primary Modulars) this morning, and took some pictures to share with the community. There is still some work to be done as we prepare for the first day, but we are almost there.

To think an entire school was constructed in eight to ten weeks, I am tempted to call it a miracle. While I do think most good things come from the divine in some form, I also use this to describe a highly improbably or extraordinary event, development, or accomplishment that brings welcome consequences.

This accomplishment was made through the altruistic endeavors of our teachers, Facilities Director and staff, public safety and police, secretarial staff, custodial staff, administration, contractor, volunteers, state representatives and staff, and overall school and town staff. All of the aforementioned have gone above and beyond, as there is no way this could have happened otherwise. Time spent was well beyond what was “required” by any agreement, and it would be disingenuous to suggest there was just sweat, as there have been some tears as well. It isn’t easy making a change (accepting a new idea or situation), and making the change happen (being an active part of its achievement), is even harder.

So as our first day approaches, what do I expect? I expect a dedicated and loving group of school staff, town staff, and contractors to be giving it our all to make the children’s first day back a productive, safe and great one. I expect controlled chaos as everyone makes sense of the changes and works out the kinks, and I humbly request in advance your patience, compassion and understanding. Everyone you are working with on Tuesday has been working all hours for weeks to pull it off. I think we all know it will not be a perfect opening in an absolute and mathematical sense, but it will be perfectly human – a miracle made by the hard work of loving people to provide the best outcomes in overcoming the tragic crumbling foundation problem.

Best wishes for a great remainder to your weekend, and see you soon.

The modular units have full plumbing and wiring, and fire and security measures, and it was all built in just 63 days.

“I mean, that’s unheard of,” Dr. Willett said. “D’Amato Construction and the teachers who moved everything all around and got their classrooms ready. It’s a small miracle for Tolland.”

“I’m just so thrilled that they managed to accomplish it in such a short period of time and we’re actually going to school,” said mother Victoria Parker as she dropped her son off at Birch Grove.

Next month, demolition will begin on the old school.

“And in 2 years time, the target is two years, we should have a new school building there to replace the old,” said Dr. Willett.

That is not going to be cheap. The price tag is estimated to be around $46 million. The state granted Tolland emergency status and is paying 89% of the cost.


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