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Einstein board gets a look at Michoud campus renovations

Einstein school leaders met Friday afternoon for a tour of renovation progress at the school they are slated to take over. But mold, rotting floors and construction delays have prevented them from moving in just yet.

Leaders hope to move in July 26, just weeks before teachers and students report for a new school year.

Einstein is slated to take over the school at 5316 Michoud Blvd., a site of modular buildings that housed Intercultural Charter School last year.

However, Einstein leaders did not agree with the Recovery School District’s initial scope of work and ordered their own assessment of the buildings that used to house Intercultural Charter School. After Einstein shared the 34-page fungal assessment report that detailed specific types of mold and relative humidity in buildings, the RSD expanded its scope of work.

“We’re here to check progress of the building, get a tour and see where we’re at,”  board president Ryan Bennett said as he kicked off the 5:20 p.m. meeting, after work hours on a muggy Friday.

Bennett was joined by additional board members and Einstein school staff as they heard from RSD leaders on the status of the buildings.

With the help of a $1 million federal grant, Einstein has been charged with taking over and turning around the failing school this year.

But before Einstein board members vote to accept the facility, they wanted to ensure they saw the property one more time.

“This is a tall order to get done before 7/26,” said Bennett, adding he “greatly appreciated” the work that had been done thus far.

“I’ve been in this business for twenty-plus years and I can tell you, we’re squeezing six to eight weeks worth of work into three,” said Jim Austin, director of building operations for the RSD.

Einstein leaders watched Austin scroll through a slideshow of “before” photos, some revealing batten insulation coated in mold, others showing water damaged floors and floors patched with plywood.

Austin then led a tour of the school where he showed board members newly finished floors, new drywall and paint jobs and exterior work, such as window trim, that was still in progress.

Austin said the trailers arrived with roofs seven years ago and were then joined together. “It was really at that point that these buildings had the major failure.”

The major failure: water damage. Water seeped down walls and contributed to floor rotting and moisture was an obvious culprit in the mold issues.

“They were built in a hurry and installed in a hurry,”  Austin said of the portables. “These are not permanent housing and were never designed to be permanent housing,”

Austin said he expects all interior work will be completed by July 26, but some exterior work will remain.

“We’re confident that we’ve located all of the problems and exposed them, remediated them and are now subsequently rebuilding them,” said Austin.

Einstein’s facilities consultant Ken Ducote asked whether the city would complete electrical and mechanical inspections when the work was finished. Austin said he was unsure and would look into it.

Deputy Superintendent of Services and Operations Delano Ford asked that waiting on inspections not be a deterrent to moving in because “getting all those agencies aligned for that approval” could slow things down.

“I feel confident that the interior work is going to be completed,”  Austin said. “I do believe that the exterior painting is going to continue past our original deadline.”

However, Austin said exterior work shouldn’t impact moving into the building.

Board member Chuck Gasho, who has facilities experience, said he felt a lot better about the state of the buildings after the tour.

“They’ve exercised good caution and good logic in replacing vents and ducts,” he said. ”As long as they do some swab testing in the ducts I’m going to be happy.”

Other board members and Einstein’s CEO, Shawn Toranto, agreed.

“I truly am impressed and appreciate all the effort you all have put in to make this happen for us and for our kids in this community because we were concerned,”  Toranto said.

“We appreciate the partnership and the patience that you all have shown,”  Ford said.

When asked after the meeting if the building was safe for Intercultural students last year, Austin said yes. Austin estimated repairs would cost between $500,000 and $550,000, but he could not provide a final number since repairs were still ongoing.

The board had the weekend to consider the progress and construction crews were expected to work through the weekend as well.

The board will meet Tuesday at 6 p.m. to decide whether or not to accept the facility.

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  • nickelndime

    Jim Austin is the director of building operations for the RSD. “When asked after the (Einstein) meeting (Friday) if the building was safe for Intercultural students last year, Austin said yes.” Last year, when the students were ICS students, it (the facility) “was safe” (says Austin), but as of July 1, 2013, when the ICS students became Einstein students, it was determined that the facility was unsafe and in need of fungal and mold remediation, among other things. Well thank you, Mr. Ken Ducote, the Einstein Board (especially Gasho who feels better now), and CEO Toranto for correcting this horrible situation that the RSD-ICS allowed to happen and the conditions that the ICS board would have allowed to continue, if the ICS charter had been renewed. This is the real test. If Toranto (the canary) sets up an office and stays in the ICS building at least 4 hours a day, it shall be considered safe for the students and Einstein Expansion staff. ($183,000 annual CEO salary)