Tolland to Replace Crumbling Foundation at Elementary School

The town must absorb the price tag of a “renovate as new” school project

The town manager in Tolland said Friday that the town will immediately have to begin the process to design repairs for the crumbling foundation problem at its elementary school.

The town and the Board of Education first noticed cracks in the concrete at the Birch Grove Primary School more than a year ago, according to Town Manager Steve Werbner.

They hired an engineering firm to test the concrete and a report delivered to town leaders in January concluded the school foundation had substantial cracking from the presence of pyrrhotite in the concrete. Pyrrhotite is a naturally occurring mineral in some stone used in concrete that was mined in parts of Connecticut that causes the concrete to deteriorate over time.

Now the town has to ask its cash strapped taxpayers, many already suffering with crumbling concrete basements, to help pay for the public school's problems.

Werbner and School Superintendent Walter Willett, in a news release on Friday, said in order to make repairs to the crumbling foundation at the Birch Grove School, they will have to find alternative classroom space for students at the pre-K through second-grade school beginning with the next school year in September. That could include portable classrooms, they said.

The hope would be to begin construction in early 2020, Werbner and Willett said.

According to Tolland officials, Birch Grove Primary School was built in two phases beginning in 1999 and then again in 2003.

The section built in 1999 is showing the most deterioration. The section built in 2003 is not as damaged and school officials believe they can repair the foundation in two phases. That would allow them to house students in the area of the school built in 2003 as they retrofit the 1999 section first.

“We can’t be in the middle of year one and a half or two and then suddenly have to move the children,” Willett said.

Early estimates for repair costs put the price tag at $46 million. Tolland officials said Friday they have worked out an agreement with the state that will have the state cover 52-percent of the repair costs. The federal government may also step in. The town will foot the rest of the bill.

Town leaders hope proposed federal legislation may one day allow them to seek federal money to help cover the cost. 

Congressman Joe Courtney announced legislation this week targeting aid for towns that have schools with failing foundations. The amount of aid, and prospects for the bill’s passage remain unknown.

 School officials have scheduled a meeting for parents at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at the school to provide more information about the situation.

A town meeting is scheduled for March 27 at 7 p.m. at Tolland High School to discuss the effects on the town. Tolland will have to hold a referendum in May to appropriate the full amount of money for the Birch Grove Primary School repair project.

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