The Closing of a Second Somerville School Building

By William Tauro

It’s sad to say that it took me, on July 6th, 2023, less than a month ago, to take a video on my own and express the many concerns of health and safety hazards that this building contains.

I expressed these concerns in that video to the mayor, to the city councilors, to the school committee and to the general public with calls, on multiple social media platforms as well as in the local newspaper. The video consisted of footage of seriously neglected maintenance and repairs of the Edgerly Education Center School building that is located at 33 Cross Street in Somerville. The video displays evidence that this building has been in desperate need of repairs for over the past seven to eight years. The needed repairs are the crumbling concrete façades that has been falling all around the entire perimeter of the building, especially at the tops of all the door entrances and exits.

The video also revealed footage of contamination existence of asbestos and other oil and water contaminants that were located on the building itself as well as beneath its flooring.
This particular section of the building used to house the old Somerville Technical Trade School back in the 1970’s. During the time period that the Technical School occupied the space it, students back then weren’t exercising environmental friendly work habits as they do today. Many times they would just drain oils and fluids from the motor vehicles that they were working on right into the floor and then eventually the contaminants would make its way to the building’s sewer system.

When the Technical School finally closed its doors in the late 70s it then became home of the Somerville Boxing Club for multiple years until two months ago when they were displaced to make room for the arrival of Winter Hill, School, students who are displaced because of falling concrete from their existing building to start attending classes in that space this coming September. In recent years the building also housed a teen center as well as recreation department staff

So now our students were going from bad to worse. The four hundred anticipated students that were due to arrive from one poorly maintained building that was crumbling, to another poorly maintained building that is crumbling even more and contains contamination of asbestos and other environmental contaminants.

What’s even more troubling is that the our elected officials in this administration were allowing a demolition company doing these repairs in the building with workers wearing hazmat suits working alongside and sharing doorways, entrances and common areas while our children were still inside the school attending classes and possibly breathing in hazardous contaminant particles at the same time.

How can anyone in their right mind, especially our elected officials, allow our children to go to school in a building where all this is going on at the same time?

On Thursday afternoon August 3rd, I went back to the school and noticed that the work was being done with the children inside the school. I immediately began to videotape on-scene outside of the building, exposing what was going on inside. In the video I put Somerville Mayor Katjana Ballantyne, the Somerville City Counselors, and the Somerville School Committee on notice and was bringing immediate attention of what was going on to the general public and especially to the parents of these students.

Later that same evening, emails were sent out to parents notifying them that the contamination of asbestos contaminants were officially reported causing the closure of this school.

One of the emails sent to parents about Friday’s canceled summer classes from Somerville Director of Special Education Ildefonso Arellano didn’t mention “asbestos” in her email. “Construction in and around the building is underway [and] we are finding it difficult to minimize the disruption,” Arellano wrote. “As a result, we will need to cancel the program for tomorrow.”

This occurs only one day after the school was occupied by our school children while workers were working in hazmat suits inside of the building as our children were possibly breathing in all these hazardous particles. The children that were occupying the school during these hazardous repairs are now finding themselves displaced.

The building was housing a summer AIM Program, a specific program for students needing specially designed instruction on the autism spectrum that were previously displaced this past June because of the crumbling concrete in the Winter Hill School building.

If the city knew anything about the Autism spectrum, they would know closing down a program does in fact affect every child in the program. Most children on the Autism spectrum work on schedules, any disruption to their schedule is affecting! Not to mention there are also “sensory“ issues involved as well.

Issues with noises, smells, etc…all complicate the situation even further. In my opinion, these students should have never been housed there to begin with. Why wasn’t the program housed at the East Somerville Community School which is a fairly new school? Why did our elected officials recklessly decide to house these students in a building that is actively under construction that was in such disarray in the first place?

Let’s hope and pray moving forward that our students will receive the very best, healthiest, safest and top-notch education that they so highly deserve!

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