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Editorial: Is Hadley building unsafe or not?

GORDON DANIELS
former Russell Street School on Route 9, now North Star

GORDON DANIELS former Russell Street School on Route 9, now North Star Purchase photo reprints »

Are the teens attending the North Star Self-Directed Learning Center in the old Russell School in Hadley in danger or not? Some town officials — including the health, electrical and building inspectors and a fire captain — say they are and that the program, which holds a lease until June, should find other quarters by Jan. 1. Safety hazards plague the old building, they say, including a worn roof and a rickety heating system that might not hold up to winter’s rigors.

Though these concerns were expressed in an Aug. 15 letter to the Select Board, that panel has been in no hurry to address the concerns. A meeting has not yet been scheduled to discuss them and the leaders of North Star, which pays the town $30,000 a year to rent the building, say no one in town had notified that they should vacate by January. Catherine Gobron, North Star’s programming director, acknowledged that the old building has deficiencies, which she has discussed with town inspectors, but told reporter Ben Storrow that in her view they aren’t life-threatening.

Selectman Brian West said the board is due to discuss the letter in coming weeks. That’s at least two months after the board received this information, and maybe more since the date has not yet been set. That seems odd to us and makes us wonder what is going on.

In the letter the inspectors use the phrase “severe life and safety issues.” Those words should warrant immediate concern by the town’s Select Board and administrator.

The letter cites slumping ceilings, a chimney missing bricks near the top, carbon monoxide detectors without batteries, old and exposed wiring, an open circuit breaker panel, a flimsy stair rail. In an interview last week, Building Inspector Timothy Neyhart said the roof is leaking. And, he said, the portion above the west entrance needs to be fixed so “it won’t collapse.” When asked by Storrow if the roof really could collapse, he said, “I am concerned about it. It hasn’t seen maintenance in some time.”

Though the school has closed the west entrance, that sounds ominous. A report from town inspectors dated August 2011 described the building as being in “poor shape” requiring “immediate attention.”

If so, shouldn’t the town be moving faster to fix it or to get North Star’s teens out of danger? It appears as though the Select Board and Town Administrator David Nixon agree with Gobron that the 80 kids who use the building are not in peril.

Still, given such dire warnings issued by multiple town inspectors, the town should at least ask the state fire marshal’s office to do an inspection. The lack of action is perplexing.

A parallel drama playing out is the effort by Wilfred Danylieko, the electrical inspector and co-author of the Aug. 15 letter, to get Nixon ousted over building maintenance issues. In addition to the Russell School, four other old buildings in town need extensive repairs, including the Hadley Senior Center and North Hadley Hall, which is used by the recreation department.

In the case of Russell School and North Hadley Hall, Neyhart estimates each would cost in excess of $1.5 million to fix. Danylieko has circulated a petition signed by 182 people saying Nixon doesn’t have the expertise to oversee such extensive maintenance and should be removed from his job. The Select Board has received the petition, but not dealt with it publicly. Which again raises the question. Is there a serious problem or isn’t there?

North Star’s Gobron said her program, which provides services for home-schooled youth and others seeking nontraditional education, does not want to run its business in a building that is hazardous. And she doesn’t think it is. She said the building needs a new furnace, the stairs are settling and the old school needs to be made handicapped accessible. “That does not read as ‘dangerous’ to me,” she told Storrow.

Is that true or is there a disaster waiting to happen?

There is a special Town Meeting Thursday at which voters will be asked to appropriate $30,000 for a study outlining the work needed on all the town buildings. In our opinion, the Select Board needs to provide answers on the North Star situation soon.

Legacy Comments3

Here's an actual opinion. I feel that Hadley will chase the money and end up tearing down any buildings that need repair. I am sure a mega-pharmacy would love to buy the corner spot occupied by North Star. Clearly the Gazette has a real bias toward nasty town politics, endless bureaucracy, and attacking home schoolers. I just remembered why I never buy your paper.

All those who use Hadley's buildings are fortunate to be able to take advantage of edifices that the people of Hadley have built and maintained over many generations. The town is also fortunate to have tenants who pay rent for the use of its facilties. Many of us either attended school at Russell Street or know someone who did. I think its safe to say that its great that the Northstar kids and staff are learning, growing and working where local kids have learned and grown through many seasons of New England sun and snow. Let's honor Hadley ancestors by keeping Russell Street safe, well-maintained, lively and filled with strong energetic children who love it like the Northstar kids do right now.

Intolerable! Don't waste any more money on useless studies and do the emergency repairs that our inspectors demand.

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