Gym floor setback hits Mt. Abe

BRISTOL — Mount Abraham Union High School Athletic Director Devin Wendl summed up in a Thursday email the latest news about the school’s gym floor project:
On Wednesday afternoon, the contracting firm installing the new floor and fixing the water leaks that ruined the old gym flooring informed Mount Abe administrators that the company had to send workers to deal with an emergency at the University of New Hampshire.
Earlier last week, the company had told Wendl the project would be done on Nov. 25. Suddenly the target date was Dec. 12 — after the start of the winter basketball season and long after practices are set to begin on Nov. 28.
“Originally it sounds like we basically had a second crew on board to speed the process up,” Wendl said. “And that second crew got called away to a second emergency at UNH.”
Now Mount Abe teachers and administrators are left with even more scrambling to do. As much as Wendl has to handle with a new sports season looming, he feels worse for physical education teachers who are essentially losing their classroom.
“I’d say our P.E. department has taken the biggest hit in this whole process,” he said.
Before construction started, P.E. teachers had to move all their equipment out of closets that would be sealed off by the project and into a steel container outside the building. For classes they have taken students out to the Mount Abraham track and into the school’s wresting room and indoor pool.
“P.E. classes got to start swim lessons pretty early this year,” Wendl said.
Mount Abe Principal Jessica Barewicz in an email praised the P.E. department for its response to the situation.
“Work on the gym floor has required our P.E. teachers to be flexible and get very creative,” she said.
Wendl said everybody affected is making the best of a situation triggered by leaky pipes in the 47-year-old school.
“This whole thing, none of it has been ideal. But we’re just working as a team,” Wendl said.  
In a mid-October emergency meeting the Mount Abe school board authorized Addison Northeast Superintendent Patrick Reen to hire a contractor to repair water leaks — from what were then unknown sources — and replace the gym floor.
Since then, officials said many older cast-iron pipes, many around the girls’ locker room, were found to be leaking and must be replaced.
Barewicz said the cost of the floor is projected to be $155,000. School officials looked to $200,000 in a budget line item called “Board Designated Funds” as the way to pay for the project. She wrote that money “was set aside by the board for unanticipated expenses such as this.”
Barewicz wrote that fund should be “sufficient to replace the gym floor, but may not be enough to fix the cause of the leak or any associated damage to the girls’ locker room. If necessary, additional funds will be shifted within the current budget to address these costs. We do not anticipate that any additional funds from taxpayers will be needed for this project.”
With a major hub of activity offline, P.E. teachers are not the only ones at Mount Abe who have had to be creative.
Organizers of this Saturday’s annual craft fair, the major fundraiser for the school’s Project Graduation, couldn’t postpone because crafters had already committed to the date. They will set up booths in the school’s lobby, hallways and two cafeterias, from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., officials said.
“We are hopeful that the craft fair will still draw the same large crowd since this event directly supports Mt. Abe’s Project Grad,” Barewicz wrote.
But Wendl said not all crafters can fit in smaller slots, and some vendor fees will probably have to be returned.
“Some of the vendors needed heights of over 10 feet for their booths, or big 10 by 10 spaces,” he said.  
The school’s annual donkey basketball game, a fundraiser for Mount Abe’s music program in which volunteers play basketball on donkeys wearing rubber boots, was easier to deal with: It was postponed until a later date.
Now Wendl must deal with the trickiest problem. Mount Abe has one gym for both its high school and middle school students, unlike Middlebury and Vergennes, both of which have multiple gyms.  
“With only one gym, it’s pretty tough,” Wendl said.
So far, he has had to reschedule only one varsity/junior varsity game. Instead of hosting Randolph on Dec. 10, the boys’ basketball teams will travel there. On Dec. 27 Randolph will play at Mount Abe.
But games are not Wendl’s biggest problem: Varsity and JV practices are set to start on Nov. 28, and typically the Mount Abe gym is full before classes start in the morning and then long after classes end in the afternoon.
Wendl was set to meet with Bristol Elementary School administrators on Thursday afternoon to pin down hours of availability for its gym, and also has reached out to officials at Beeman Academy, Vergennes Union High School and Middlebury College as a backup plan.
If there is any silver lining to the current mess, Wendl said, it is that the old gym floor was showing its age.
“It’s going to look really sweet when it’s done,” Wendl said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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