By Seth Daniel
It’s been a wild ride for the past week at Chelsea High School (CHS), and there hasn’t even been a single student or staff member in the building.
But there have been plenty of flies.
On Wednesday evening, Dec. 15, Supt. Mary Bourque sent an emergency communication to students, parents and staff canceling school on Dec. 16 and 17 in order to address an odd problem whereby flies had somehow entered the building and inundated CHS. The problem was so severe that students and staff were not able to be in the building as crews searched for the source of the infestation.
By Tuesday afternoon of this week, Bourque decided to call off school for the remainder of the week at CHS, which meant students were going to go directly to Winter Break and not return to school until Jan. 4 – instead focusing on the repair of four sewer pipes under the slab foundation of CHS that were determined to be the source of the flies.
Bourque told the Record it wasn’t an easy decision to close school, and the entire situation was incredibly unpredictable. However, she said finals for classes wouldn’t be affected due to the term ending in late January.
“The quarter doesn’t end until Jan. 27 so we’re OK there,” she said. “It’s always a concern with the loss of learning time. We have posted to our website the reading assignments to be done over the break and some MCAS prep questions for 10th graders to try to help them prepare. This was an unanticipated situation that no one could have predicted.”
Bourque told staff and parents on Tuesday afternoon that they had opted to close school for the remainder of the year in order to concentrate on getting the work done correctly.
She said there were four or five different contractors doing specialized jobs as they proceeded to cut through the slab foundation to the individual pipes in order to repair them. Then contractors will come in to backfill the site and then set the foundation once again.
“I want you to know arriving at this decision was difficult,” she wrote. “We do not want students to lose instructional time and yet, we are committed to fixing the four pipes thoroughly as well as cleaning the building completely before students and staff return to the building…We expect to be able to reopen Chelsea High School on Wednesday, January 4, 2017. I will provide you with and update prior to reopening. Again, we are grateful for the support of the Chelsea community as we resolve this problem.”
The problem first surfaced around Monday, Dec. 12. The problem got worse on both Dec. 13 and 14, to the point where officials felt it was unsafe to be in the building – which is just 20 years old.
Last week, school officials searched in vain for a source above ground, and then turned to a video investigation below ground for the source. After that investigation, they found four broken sewer pipes that were apparently the source for the flies to enter the building.
Last Friday afternoon, the schools received permission for an emergency bid process to hire the contractors necessary to cut through the concrete, repair the pipes and then replace the foundation.
It was hoped that could be done over the weekend, but the scope of the work was too big. After classes were cancelled on Monday and Tuesday, the contractor had trouble getting to the pipes because the foundation was so thick. The cutting continued Tuesday and Wednesday. The plumber is expected to be able to get at the pipes today, Thursday, Dec. 22. The pipes are four-feet in the ground and must be dug up. After that is concluded, the another contractor will be brought in to deliver and place nine yards of clean dirt to fill the holes.
If there are more unexpected delays, Bourque said they would be able to use the Winter Break to finish and bring the building back into working order.