Cracks nothing new at Naugatuck High School

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Building problems pointed out in 2007 report

A 2007 structural report from architectural firm Kaestle Boos Associates indicated that cracks such as this one, in the exterior brick of the Naugatuck High School auditorium, should be further investigated and repaired.

NAUGATUCK — As roofs collapsed all over the borough under heavy loads of snow, students poured out of Naugatuck High School one clear, cold day last month because staff had noticed a crack in an exterior wall that was quickly changing course.

An architectural firm had noticed that moving crack four years earlier and called for further investigation. A few days after the evacuation, Burgess Robert A. Neth, who heads the borough’s five-year capital project committee, received a February 2007 report from the architects on the results of their inspection.

According to the report from Kaestle Boos Associates, the high school, built in 1959 and added onto in 1974 and 2003, has a number of cracks in exterior and interior walls and columns that call for investigation and repair.

Engineers who inspected the building as recently as last week have said there is no concern to the structural integrity of the building, borough officials said.

“The building’s not falling down and the students aren’t in any danger,” Neth said.

According to the 2007 report, some concrete columns need to be insulated, which will require replacing windows. Where the original building connects to newer wings, and covered joints need to be created between floor slabs. Cracks in the brick of the exterior auditorium walls must be further investigated. Moving cracks, such as the one that caused last month’s evacuation, should also be investigated on the exterior of the school’s Goodyear House and Castle House and in the south corridor.

The borough is not planning to act immediately on the report’s recommendations, but is considering future repairs or maybe a renovation of the entire school as part of its long-term school facility planning initiative, Mayor Robert A. Mezzo said.

“Some of the things that are recommended in there, we should do as a matter of maintenance, but I think there’s some longer-term things we’ll have to do there that could be quite expensive,” Mezzo said.

The long-term facility planning committee has a survey out to gather community input on the future of the school district.

The committee is also considering long-term repairs or renovations at City Hill Middle School, Maple Hill Elementary School, Hop Brook Elementary School and Hillside School, because those buildings are most likely to still be schools in 2025, Mezzo said.

Although Neth has worked with Kaestle Boos in the past, most notably on the project to install solar panels on the school’s roof, he said he was surprised when he received the 2007 report.

“My reaction was, ‘What the heck’s going on here? How come it hasn’t been addressed?'” Neth said.

Construction administrator Fred Khericha, who wrote the report, said the Board of Education in 2007 had asked him to do the study to find possible code violations.

Board of Education members at last month’s joint budget meeting with burgesses and the finance board said turnover within the school district administration, especially changes in superintendents and business managers, could have caused the report to be lost in the shuffle.

Superintendent John Tindall-Gibson said he had not been aware of the report before that meeting, but he always knew there were cracks in the school.

“We’re always talking about what makes the most sense to do, what needs immediate attention,” Tindall-Gibson said. “All of a sudden, people are seeing cracks because we have a once-in-100-year snow load.”

Tindall-Gibson has received calls about cracks in other borough schools, but none turned out to be perilous, he said.

“It’s just kind of a natural thing,” he said. “People are concerned. They’re hypervigilant.”

Naugatuck High School Principal Fran Serratore said he noticed cracks in the walls in 1993, when he was assistant principal.

“Part of it is natural settling of the building,” Serratore said. “We’re used to it.”