Bowers opening may be delayed

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By Damon Lawrence


School starts Aug. 8 in Roane County, but construction could extend summer vacation for students planning to attend Harriman’s Bowers Elementary.
“There is a real possibility we will not be able to open school on time,” Roane County Director of Schools Toni McGriff said last week.
“We don’t think it will be more than about a week delay, and we’re prepared for that, she added. “I’d say by the middle of (this) week we’ll have to make a decision.”
If Bowers doesn’t start school with the rest of the county,
McGriff said it will probably mean extended school days for the first semester.
“We’ve already worked out our busing situation if we had to do that,” she said. “For example, if we have to dismiss middle and high at 3 o’clock and we can’t dismiss Bowers until 3:30, we can have a bus run a second route and get those children home.”
Even though a delay seems likely, McGriff expressed some optimism about opening on time.
“We keep thinking we’ll get there and it will be where we can open OK,” she said.
Roane County Schools is in the midst of an expansive $32 million building program with projects going on throughout the system.
McGriff said projects at Cherokee Middle and Midway Middle are not finished, but school is expected to start on time at those locations.  
“It’s like your home,” she said. “If you try to remodel your home, you find things that you didn’t realize were broken until you get started. That’s kind of what happened.”
The Bowers project includes renovations and a two-story addition.
“It’s going to be beautiful when it’s done,” McGriff said. “The classrooms are gorgeous.”
She said the addition is finished, but significant work remains in the old building. That part of the project was slowed, McGriff said, because of asbestos.  
“The library area and maybe the office area had had carpet put down a number of years ago, and under that carpet was asbestos tile,” she said.
The tile was disturbed during the construction.  
“Asbestos tile is not an issue if all you’re doing is going in and taking out the carpet and waxing the floor,” McGriff said. “But we were taking out walls,  and when you start taking out walls you chip that tile — and as soon as you do that, it becomes an issue.”
Whenever Bowers does open up, some work could still be ongoing.
“Ms. (Candace) Lett and the nurse and the others that are part of that administrative area, they’ll be sort of satellited out wherever they can stick them for a couple of weeks, possibly a month as they finish that up,” McGriff said.
“We’re getting completely new restrooms in the old building,” she added. “The south bathroom will be complete. The north one may not, so that just means the children that are in those three or four classrooms will need to come around to another restroom for a few days.”