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Leaky roof could close Westside Elementary for two years

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Published:   |   Updated: April 15, 2014 at 06:12 PM

BROOKSVILLE - A roof at Westside Elementary School could close the school for up to two years while repairs are made, and students might need to be relocated in the process.

During a Tuesday afternoon workshop, Director of Facilities Roland Bavota said the roof at Westside Elementary School is a significant issue and will likely need to be replaced.

The problems aren't structural, Bavota said, but the roof has high saturation levels at various points, and is more or less acting like a sponge.

"We are not comfortable with rolling the dice with any kids in there ... the roof could be a problem," Bavota said.

Water damage had lead several ceiling tiles to fall off, Bavota said, eager to debunk the rumor that the roof caved in last year.

The recommendations were based off of a report conducted by Harvard Jolly Architecture in St. Petersburg.

The report, finished in November, evaluated three buildings at Westside, and found numerous issues, including a leaking roof, cracks in doors, water damage, deteriorated pipes and insulation and restrooms and hallways not in ADA compliance. The firm recommended the three buildings evaluated be razed and replaced.

Based on the report, Bavota presented the school board with several options to remedy the issues. If construction went forward on the immediate changes needed, at the cost of $4.8 million, portable classrooms could be set up on the Westside campus for about $1 million. Other options include busing students to Pine Grove Elementary School, about 14 miles away, for students in kindergarten through fourth grade, and fifth and sixth graders to Deltona and J.D. Floyd, where portables would be needed.

Several parents addressed school board members during the workshop, echoing the sentiment that Westside is a tight-knit community of students, parents and educators that ought to stick together.

Amy Tilton, a kindergarten teacher at Westside with two students who attend the school, said her concern extends beyond the construction.

"Our parents struggle to get to conferences, after-school activities. Moving to a school on the opposite side of the county compounds all the factors that make it hard for parents to participate," Tilton said, adding these constraints could keep students from reaching their full potential.

Parent Amber Fritz said she works about 30 minutes south of Westside, and the idea of her students being about a 30 minute ride north at Pine Grove made her uneasy.

"It's take me an hour to get to my children. I'm not okay with that," Fritz said.

Several school board members, including John Sweeney, were concerned the board was just now finding out about the necessary repairs.

Bavota said the Westside repairs have been part of a five-year plan, but there hasn't been any money available to make the repairs.

Board Member Cynthia Moore said she was concerned about the community not being able to receive services provided at Westside, such as food and clothing pantries, on-site daycare and single-gender classrooms.

"Those programs need to stay, regardless," Moore said.

Board Chairman Gus Guadagnino said he recognized the issue was "emotional," and as much as the Westside community wants to stay together, he intends to vote to close and rebuild in the interest of student safety.

After a lengthy discussion, the board advised Bavota to have a structural engineer evaluate the building to make sure the repairs are absolutely needed.

The issue will be revisited during a May 6 workshop. Superintendent Lori Romano said if the roof repairs are needed, the money will "need to come from somewhere," and another budget item will need to be eliminated to make room.

Romano said she will meet with Westside Elementary School teachers and staff tomorrow afternoon. She will be available at the school, located on 6400 Applegate Drive in Spring Hill, from 5 to 7 p.m. to meet with parents to discuss questions and concerns.

wbiddlecombe@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5283

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