Orange residents concerned about expected blasting at school building site

ORANGE — There is a growing number of people who are concerned about blasting expected as part of the plan to construct a three-story addition onto Fisher Hill Elementary School, demolish Dexter Park Innovation School and move all students into the expanded and renovated building.

Rock ledge blasting would create room for a new school access road, a driveway that serves as a second means of access. Bruce Scherer, chair of the Orange School Building Committee, said this road would be to the west of Dexter Street and come down to North Main Street.

However, abutter Ann Reed, who has lived on Dexter Street since 1987, is worried about the expected blasting’s effects. She said she fears property damage from rocks ejected from the blast site by the force of the explosion and negative health effects caused by the blasting.

“I’ve read up on the industry’s own literature and even what they have to say is very, very concerning,” Reed said. “Carbon monoxide into the atmosphere is absolutely promised. … The ability (of it) to travel underground is promised.”

She said the home nearest to the blasting site is 25 feet away, and that the site has six direct backyard abutters.

Reed said there is a growing online community of people concerned about the blasting, who are “hot under the collar about this issue.”

“There are a number of people who are very dismayed,” she said, adding that blasting had never been mentioned during talks of construction. “We’ve all been caught by surprise.”

But Scherer said blasting has always been an important part of the construction plan, as well as excavation, utility work and tree cutting, though none of the work has gone out to bid yet and there isn’t a firm timeline. He said a second means of access to the school is necessary in case there is an incident that requires a prompt response by emergency personnel, and that vehicle congestion has been a problem at Fisher Hill for many years.

Scherer said he understands the importance of blasting being conducted responsibly.

“I have no interest in having this be mishandled,” Scherer said. “We are all in this together.”

Voter approval

Voters at Annual Town Meeting in June opted 300-to-16 in favor of a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion for the project and a week later voted more than 2-to-1 to ratify that decision at the polls.

The work has been projected to cost a total of roughly $57 million, with an approximately $45.7 million construction cost. Orange is expected to contribute $23 million, to be raised through the debt exclusion.

The Massachusetts School Building Authority, a quasi-independent government authority that Scherer said gets its money through sales tax, will cover 80 percent of the project’s eligible costs.

Built in 1951, Dexter Park was designated a “Category 4” school in 2006. This is the Massachusetts School Building Authority’s lowest possible rating. Voters approved funding a feasibility study in 2018 to examine the Dexter Park issue and conceive repair or replacement options.

Scherer previously said Raymond Design Associates is handling the project “from soup to nuts, literally everything from drainage to construction of the building … to computers that are going to be in there, furniture.”

In June, voters also agreed to appropriate, borrow or transfer from available funds the money needed to remove asbestos from Dexter Park and repair a deteriorating concrete floor there. This solution will remedy the problem for the remaining three to five years the building is anticipated to be used.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.

Author: Going Green

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