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Chenango Bridge Elementary Students Move To Saint Francis School During Renovations, District Addresses Safety Concerns

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In just a few weeks kids will be heading back to school, but Chenango Valley Elementary students will not be returning to their same buildings. Both Port Dickinson and Chenango Bridge Elementary schools are being renovated as part of a $15 million Capital Improvement Project.

Construction has already started at Port Dickinson Elementary. Those students will be moved to Chenango Bridge for half of the school year. The 3rd through 5th graders from Chenango Bridge will be moved to the old Saint Francis school building in Hillcrest for the entire school year.

In a letter to Fox 40, some parents voiced concerns about their children moving into the former Catholic School building. 1051 Chenango Street was built before 1950 and hasn't been used as a school since Binghamton relocated students there from the flooded-out MacArthur Elementary building. They left when the construction of their new building was completed in 2015.

"It is an older building and I know there are concerns because it isn't an active building," says David Gill, Superintendent of Chenango Valley schools, "We would never put students and staff in an unsafe environment."

In their letter, parents of Chenango Bridge students wrote they were worried about the air quality inside the former school. Gill says this was a top concern for the district as well, which is why they wanted the building tested for asbestos, mold, lead in the water, and radon. All of those test results are available on the district's website. All of those results have come back clean.

The radon test took a few tries. When the first test was run back in February, Gill says the results were higher than he wanted to see because a mitigation system was broken in the building. Saint Francis of Assisi Church, who owns the building, paid for the system to be repaired and the test was run again. This time, there were two areas on the first floor that had levels of radon above 4.0, which is the point of failure in the United States Environmental Protection Agency's guidelines for school buildings. One area measured 4.0 and another came in at 5.3. Gill says an additional mitigation system was installed. After a third test, those two problem areas dropped to 0.7 and 0.4 respectively.



Gill says the district made security updates at the building as well, adding a buzzer and keycard reader. He says visitors will need to be buzzed into the school and the church because a tunnel connects the two. Phones have been installed in all the classrooms as well as fire escape windows.

Gill says the district and the church have shared costs. The church paid for the mitigation system and is completing repairs inside the building. All of this was budgeted for, according to Gill, with $150,000 of the Capital Improvement Project money set aside for the purpose of renovating and renting Saint Francis. 

Overall, Gill says the Saint Francis building allows all 385 Chenango Bridge students and their teachers to stay together. Vacating their own building for a year also gives construction crews the ability to work year-round instead of just on school breaks. Gill says if they were only working when school was not in session, the project could take several years to complete and end up costing more than the work put into Saint Francis.

"You know, they need to get paid for their days of work, so prolonging that would have cost probably, I would suspect, probably more money than the money we put in there," says Gill.

The district is hosting an open house for students and parents at Saint Francis on Tuesday August 27th so they can get used to the new set-up. Gill says he wants them to keep in mind that this is temporary and they'll soon be back in their own, newly upgraded, buildings.