Saranac Lake school district hires contractors for vermiculite remediation, capital projects

Red caution tape is strung around the half-circle at Petrova Elementary/Saranac Lake Middle School in Saranac Lake where crews from Two Brothers Contracting are removing vermiculite, which can contain asbestos, found in the building’s third-floor ceiling. (Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)

SARANAC LAKE — The Saranac Lake Central School District has awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in construction contracts over the last few weeks for removal of vermiculite from one of its buildings and a capital project that spans multiple school facilities.

Two Brothers Contracting from Westmoreland, New York, has been hired to remediate vermiculite in the third floor ceiling of the Petrova Elementary/Saranac Lake Middle School building. The district’s Board of Education has awarded the company a $679,000 contract for the work.

“They’ve done all their pre-abatement work. There’s quite a bit of setup work for this to happen,” Superintendent Diane Fox said Monday. “I’m expecting demolition to start this week on the third floor of Petrova. We sent notice to neighbors to say, ‘Sorry, we’re going to be noisy neighbors for the next couple of weeks,’ because work will be happening in the evening until school is out.”

The vermiculite was discovered in the building’s ceiling last month during an environmental inspection for the district’s upcoming capital project. A mineral used for insulation and fireproofing, vermiculite is not toxic, but some of it was once mined from places that also contained asbestos, which is dangerous.

After it was discovered, school officials closed off the third floor to students. Sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders were moved to the first floor and part of the second floor, which had been occupied by elementary schoolers. Petrova’s fourth- and fifth-graders have been moved to Bloomingdale Elementary School.

The abatement work was granted “emergency” status by the Education Department, allowing the district to fast-track the project. The Board of Education has agreed to front up to $1 million in fund balance, or unspent funds from prior years, to pay for the remediation.

Fox said the bids for the abatement came in higher than expected, in part because of some unanticipated remediation work that has to be done in the auditorium.

“That added quite a bit to our cost,” she said. “We were hoping we’d come in around $400,000, so it’s pretty significant.”

In addition to Two Brothers, the district has also hired Gheen Environmental Services of Whitesboro, New York, to conduct air monitoring during the abatement project. The company will be paid based on the number of samples they take, which Fox estimates will add up to about $35,000.

School officials are also lining up a contractor to put all the necessary infrastructure — duct work, cabling and more — back in the third-floor ceiling once the remediation ends. Fox said that project was expected to go out to bid this week, a walk-through with interested bidders is set for Friday, and proposals would be opened June 27.

School officials hope the remediation work will be done by the time students return to school in September. During the summer, the Saranac Lake Area Youth Program will still take place in the Petrova building, although Petrova’s summer school, or extended school year, program has been moved to the high school.

Amid the unexpected remediation project, Fox said work has already started on some aspects of a planned, $18.7 million capital project that school district voters approved in January.

The Saranac Lake High School gym is being repainted and its basketball hoops are being replaced. Those are precursors, Fox said, to other work planned in the gym this summer, namely installing a new floor, bleachers and dividing wall.

Luck Brothers of Plattsburgh has won a $713,000 contract for the gym work, as well as replacement of skylights and upgrades to track event areas at the high school, Fox said.

Elmer Davis of Rochester has been awarded an $872,000 contract to replace portions of the roof on the Petrova Elementary/Saranac Lake Middle School building.

“We’re having the main roof and the roof over the auditorium replaced,” Fox said.

Following a special meeting last week, the board also agreed to hire Construction Associates of Phoenix, New York, to oversee and look out for the district’s interests during the capital project work. The company will be paid $91,417 for this summer’s phase of the project, and $424,256 for work associated with projects scheduled to take place next year.

“They work with the architect. They review the architect’s plans,” Fox said. “They do their own cost estimating before we go out for bidding and do some preliminary work before the bids are submitted. They work with the district and the architect after the bids come in, to review them and make sure they are appropriate and match the specifications. Every day that construction is going on, they’ll be here in the district overseeing the work that’s being done.”

Overall, Fox said the capital project bids awarded so far are in line with the project’s budget.

She noted that she and Building and Grounds Superintendent Vernon James are only taking one week of vacation this summer.

“And they aren’t the same week, because there’s a lot going on here this summer,” she said.