Despite structural concerns, Hadley extends lease for North Star school
HADLEY — The Select Board voted unanimously Thursday to extend the lease for North Star Self Directed Learning for Teens at the Russell School through 2014, barring the discovery of any life-threatening safety issues at the building.
The board’s 4-0 vote followed a recommendation from the town’s inspectors that the building be closed by January due to what they termed “severe life and safety issues.”
But in response to questions from Select Board Chair Gloria DiFulvio over the building’s safety, Building Inspector Timothy Neyhart said that the code violations outlined in an Aug. 15 letter did not rise to the level requiring the school to be condemned.
Nonetheless, he said, the building has long-term structural issues, with a leaking roof and an aging foundation and heating system. The last issue in particular is a concern, Neyhart said, expressing concern that the building’s heating system might not make it through the winter.
“There are serious issues that need to be addressed at some point,” Neyhart said.
Select Board members agreed that the town needs to decide whether or not it is going to make the costly repairs to the building needed to bring it up code. They noted that a structural study is underway and should be done by the end of the year. If the town were to discover any safety hazards, the board would have to revisit its decision, they told school officials.
Meanwhile, Town Administrator David Nixon said the town has hired a firm to fix 100 slate shingles on the roof to repair a leak there.
But with the town facing the choice of either making extensive repairs to bring the building up to code or closing and possibly selling it, all parties agreed that North Star needed to begin looking for a new, long-term home.
Gary Bernhard, president of the North Star trustees, requested that the town give his organization adequate time to find a new home. Finding a new home for the organization by September would be a “squeeze,” he said.
“The message I am getting is North Star needs to start looking,” Bernhard said.
North Star’s lease was to have expired in June. Under its terms, Hadley is responsible for the structural integrity of the building while North Star is responsible for day-to-day maintenance.
The inspectors’ August letter to the Select Board lists falling ceiling in second-floor classrooms as well as several non-working urinals and a chimney in need of repointing as “life/safety issues.” The letter also raised concerns about the safety of two unused entrances.