Construction Delays, Pandemic Complicates Cape Tech Reopening

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Cape Cod Tech , COVID-19

The glimmering new Cape Tech building (left) is nearing completion, while the old school awaits final asbestos remediation and demolition. ALAN POLLOCK PHOTOS

PLEASANT LAKE — When students return to Cape Cod Tech this week, it’ll be anything but normal. They’re in a new building, but some of the classrooms aren’t completely finished. Parking is limited because the old school building has yet to be demolished. And, of course, there’s a pandemic that will limit the school to 50 percent capacity for the time being.

This week will be an orientation period, with students in each grade spending three hours on a particular day touring the brand new building. Seniors visited Tuesday morning, and juniors came to the building on Wednesday. Sophomores were set to visit today, with first-year students coming on Friday. Schools will begin for all grades next Monday, Sept. 21, following a hybrid schedule, Superintendent Bob Sanborn said.

For the first four weeks, about half of students will study just their shop classes, using the vocational classrooms inside the school. The other half will be taking their academic classes remotely from home, and after four weeks, the two cohorts will switch places. The goal is to keep the school at half-capacity, at least for the time being, to reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19.

Though it has classroom windows that open, the new school has a state-of-the-art ventilation system that meets state public health standards. A “COVID room” near the nurse’s office has been set up with negative-pressure ventilation in case students or staff members show symptoms of the disease, providing a safe holding area until they can go home. The school has hired an additional nurse and is also seeking to hire more custodial staff members to keep up with the constant cleaning and disinfecting that will be required, Sanborn said.

As of Monday, the new school building was operating under a temporary certificate of occupancy; all of the life safety systems of the building are up and running and have been inspected, but the contractor has yet to complete work on the new facility. The science rooms, in particular, have yet to be finished, Sanborn said. On Monday, crews were installing the bleachers in the gymnasium, clearing the way for a subcontractor to finish the new gym floor. Progress appears to be on track again, he said.

“We had some tension over the last couple weeks, but we had a very good meeting this morning,” he said Monday. After a time when he felt that the contractors were not pushing hard enough to complete the job, “all hands are on deck,” he said.

The new cafeteria, designed to hold around 190 kids, can only hold around 40 given social distancing guidelines, Sanborn said. The district is purchasing a special cover for the gym floor, and the gym will provide overflow space for the lunchroom in the short-term. Students are receiving boxed lunches rather than traditional offerings from a serving line, and some will be encouraged to eat outdoors when the weather is nice.

The demolition of the old school, which was slated to begin months ago, has been delayed because of the difficulty in removing components that contain asbestos. Underneath the outer shell of brick is a layer of mastic that contains the hazardous substance, and remediation has been slow-going. Asbestos is also present around the boiler and in some of the drywall, but appears not to be present in the concrete, which should help reduce the cost of the demolition. Permits are now in place, windows have been removed, and heavy equipment should begin dismantling the old school within a few days.