Wildwood Early Childhood Center To Close In 3 Weeks Due To Oil Spill; Relocation Details Still TBD

WILMINGTON, MA — On Monday night, Wildwood parents got a surprise when Superintendent Dr. Glenn Brand announced that the much maligned school building would be closing for the school year in a few weeks due to a recent oil tank breach. Students and staff will be relocated to a yet identified location (or locations) in town.

During a fuel delivery in late January, the school’s fuel tank was overfilled. The town caught the issue within a few days as a result of its monitoring system, necessitating a response from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (Mass DEP) and the Wilmington Fire Department. Meanwhile, an above-ground temporary fuel tank was brought in. The Board of Health deemed the school safe to inhabit. The school’s heating system is operational.

The town created a response action clean-up plan as required by Mass DEP, with significant actions taking place during February vacation, while students and staff were at home. Last week, the underground fuel tank was removed. Two trenches and recovery wells are in the process of being installed to remove the spilled oil from the ground.

Brand provided the latest developments in an email to parents on February 28.

“Late last week, we learned more about the scope of the necessary clean-up of the oil spill. This project will involve extensive work on the west side of the school adjacent to the wing of classrooms. The work will take an estimated 6-8 weeks to complete and will involve a considerable amount of heavy machinery, noise, and disruption,” wrote Brand. “After consultation with our local Town Manager, town engineers, the Board of Health, and the Superintendent of Public Buildings, we collectively determined that it is not practical or in the  best interests of our staff and students to continue to occupy the school during this clean-up phase. To continue to do so is not best to support teaching and learning for our Wildwood students and staff.”

Brand and school officials have begun emergency planning to identify alternative locations for students, staff and programs of the Wildwood School as soon as possible for the remainder of the current school year.  Brand is aiming to complete the relocation in the next 2-3 weeks. He acknowledged it may not be possible to relocate all students and staff to only one other school facility.

“Even if the clean-up work is completed in the estimated six to eight week timeframe, I am committed to keeping students and staff in the location that they will eventually transition to for the remainder of the current school year,” stressed Brand. “In other words, students and staff will only move once this year.”

Town Manager Jeff Hull and Assistant Town Manager Susan Inman have made it clear that the town will be going after those responsible for the oil spill, having been in touch with their insurance lawyer and adjuster recently.

“Our deductible is $500,000,” Hull told the Board of Selectmen on Monday night. “It’s not clear if costs associated with this will hit that limit of exceed it. The cost of this cleanup and associated costs — if there are relocations and pod rentals — could exceed our limits. The town would then have to make the initial payout for the costs incurred and then recover the money as soon as we can.”

District Was Supposed To Have Contingency Plans For Wildwood Already In Place

Wilmington residents supported an article at the 2020 Annual Town Meeting to fund an $80,000 expenditure to hire a consultant to explore possible alternatives for the Wildwood.

Dr. Brand anticipated the Town Manager’s Office would issue a RFQ (Request For Qualifications) to prospective consultant firms in December 2020.

After gathering information from the consultant’s third party study on interim options available for the Wildwood School, Brand hoped to offer solutions to the School Committee no later than Fall 2021.

The School Committee has never been provided with relocation solutions for the Wildwood.

A consultant was never hired despite the approved funding.

An RFQ was never issued. In fact, at the February 23, 2022 School Committee Meeting, Brand noted he expected the RFQ to be issued THIS WEEK — 20 months after the Town Meeting vote.

Brand also discussed the RFQ at the February 10, 2022 Virtual Town Hall for parents and guardians about the Wildwood.

“The town will be putting out a RFQ in the next week or in short order,” Brand said. “The project is funded by a recent capital item that the school department put forth. The RFQ is seeking expertise from a 3rd party consultant — someone to help the district and town understand what the options are should we need to vacate the Wildwood, should that be in a rapid timeline or a little bit further down the road.”

“The Wildwood building is at end of life use,” Brand later added. “It’s been around since 1955. We’re maintaining it to keep everything operating the best we can. With the RFQ, we’ll be looking at other options — from modular units to moving to other buildings we own to leasing space. We’ll brainstorm and try to get a plan in place.”

“The study will help us analyze options… There is no imminent plan to relocate next week, next month or necessarily later this school year,” Brand said back on February 10. “We’re exploring options if we need them… We’re trying to be proactive for the worst case scenario in case we need to relocate suddenly.”

Special Town Meeting On Tuesday, March 8

The Town is holding a Special Town Meeting on Tuesday, March 8, 2022 at 7pm at the Shriners Auditorium to ask residents to fund a $1.2 million feasibility study from free cash reserves to explore permanently replacing the Wildwood. A YES vote will allow the town to continue the process outlined by the Massachusetts School Building Authority and remain eligible for a significant state construction grant for the project, with minimum reimbursement rate of 31%. Any new school building, however, would likely take 5-7 years to open.

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