July 18. 2013 1:59AM

School renovations stick with the familiar

Union Leader Correspondent

SALEM — As summer renovations at Soule and Fisk elementary schools continue, school officials said they've opted to go with the tried and true when it comes to remodeling the buildings' ceilings and putting up the walls of the new multi-purpose rooms.

During Tuesday's Salem School Board meeting, Superintendent Michael Delahanty shared the most recent project updates, noting that the next step would be to remove asbestos-laced tiles from both schools' floors.

Delahanty said a bid for that portion of the project had been awarded the previous day, but the state Department of Environmental Service requires a 10-day waiting period before that work can actually begin.

"Once we get started, it's a three-week process," Delahanty said, noting that the goal is to complete both schools' floors in time for staff to move back into their classrooms to start the new school year.Other work won't be completed until well into the 2013-2014 school year, he said.The district construction committee has been meeting weekly with construction officials and architects to finalize various construction decisions.

During the March town meeting, Salem voters approved a $16.2 million bond article funding major renovations at both schools, as well as more minor repairs at Haigh Elementary School.

Keeping the Soule and Fisk classrooms' ceilings open rather than closing them off with tiles and grid was an option district officials had carefully considered over the past few months.

This week, however, Delahanty said a decision was made to stay within more familiar territory.

"It looks like we're going to go with dropped ceilings, not open ceilings," Delahanty said, noting that he and the committee members had discussed the topic extensively with project architects as well as with Maintenance Director Jack Messenheimer.

"What it came down to was that our findings didn't give us enough confidence that the open ceilings would meet our needs and once we went there, it would be no going back," Delahanty said.

School Board Chairman Bernard Campbell further noted that both Soule and Fisk schools "have a very long history and are both relatively old."

"A lot of the utilities are already in place," Campbell said. "There were too many concerns about maintaining an open ceiling and keeping it clean, so in the end the committee realized there were just too many risks involved."

An architect's recommendation to use hardened drywall for the multi-purpose rooms rather than traditional concrete blocks was likewise nixed.

"I think members of the committee felt that the concrete block has already been used in the past. It's served us well and is long lasting to withstand the rough-and-tumble use that goes with an elementary school," Delahanty said.

Details on the project were revealed to the community earlier this month when school officials shared an update before the Salem Planning Board.

As early September rolls around, classes will once again be in full swing, and school officials warned there would be plenty of contractor equipment on the grounds of both schools.

"Right now we're working on how we'll address the flow of traffic and the safe drop-off and pickup of students," Delahanty said. "Rest assured, there is some very strict oversight being applied to how this work is being done."

The Salem School Board will meet again for a planning session on Aug. 20, with a regular meeting to take place Aug. 27.aguilmet@newstote.com