The brutally cold temperatures that descended on Evanston in late December left their mark on some of District 65’s facilities.

Over winter break, the Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Center, Washington Elementary, Dawes Elementary and Chute Middle School all experienced frozen pipes, according to Director of Operations Joseph Sierra.

And while maintenance staff was able to extract the water from most of the pipes and get most of the buildings ready to go for the start of school earlier this month, Chute was not as lucky.

“We had a pipe that burst in one of the store rooms. The water went into the wood floor of the gym, so that wood floor just expanded,” Sierra told members of the district’s Personnel, Building & Grounds and Finance Committee at a meeting on Monday, Jan. 23.

“We had to call a mitigation company to come and do an assessment, and it’s considered a total loss.”

Chute student Griffin Robert Sferruzza on the first day of school last fall. Credit: Debbie-Marie Brown

In assessing the situation, the company also found asbestos in the gym floor, which requires a full abatement before the district can begin the replacement process. As a result, the gym will not be usable for two or three months, Sierra said.

During the abatement, the gym area will be sealed off from the rest of the building and the work will be done after hours, between 4 p.m. and midnight most week days, Sierra said.

Financially, the problem is not as bleak, as all but the $2,500 deductible of the cost for the abatement and new floor is covered by insurance.

Committee Chair and Board Member Joey Hailpern, who has a child at Chute, said he hoped to see better communication from district leaders about the issue moving forward, especially given potential concerns about asbestos exposure.

An email should go out to affected families as soon as Tuesday, Jan. 24, according to Superintendent Devon Horton.

“I would say that [communication] is already late because everybody knows this is happening, but I think notification of asbestos would be huge. It seems to be something that we should have heightened communication around, that there’s going to be asbestos abatement happening while school is going on,” Hailpern said.

“I’ve experienced and been in a place where there’s been an abatement, but if I had never done that before, all I would hear is ‘cancer-causing materials in my child’s school.'”

Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...

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