Following the closure of Northport Middle School after elevated levels of benzene were found in two separate septic systems near the building, district officials and the community are adjusting to the relocation of more than 600 middle school students into three different schools.
The plan called for eight-graders to relocate to Northport High School, for seventh-graders to go to East Northport Middle School, and for sixth-graders to settle in at Norwood Avenue Elementary School beginning Jan. 24.
Superintendent Robert Banzer said the first several days in their new buildings have gone well for NMS students.
“I was happy to hear of how welcoming each school was to the NMS students on their first days, and I anticipate that their efforts to ensure a caring environment will continue,” he said. “As we move through this transition our families have been extremely patient and flexible.”
Rich Rowehl, a Northport parent who has a daughter in the seventh grade, said the first week of the transition has gone as good as it could have.
“To be able to pull off what they did [in a short amount of time] is a monumental task,” he said. “I condemned the district for doing this and I hope going forward we can find a workable [permanent] solution.”
The transition is still a work in progress, Rowehl said. Parents expressed concerns about crowded lunchrooms and lack of lockers at the board of education meeting that night. Sixth-graders at Norwood Avenue Elementary School don’t have access to lockers. Seventh-graders were moved into a larger cafeteria at ENMS due to the size of the class. The superintendent acknowledged that they are still ironing out some logistical issues.
Rowehl stressed that this is still an ongoing process and there’s a lot that needs to come out.
“The firm is still conducting tests [at NMS],” he said. “We have to wait to see what else it finds. Then is it safe to return or does the school need to permanently close? We know they found mercury/benzene but what else is there?”
The Northport resident said the committee and district need to continue to be transparent on what the firm finds and strive to find a permanent solution that will make everyone happy.
Ideas from community members and parents have been floated around. Due to decreasing enrollment in the district, one of the elementary schools could be repurposed as a new middle school, or possibly the William J. Brosnan administrative building could be reopened as a school. Banzer said there has been no discussion of a permanent plan outside of the closure of the building for the remainder of this school year, adding that PW Grosser Consulting will continue its testing and review all data prior to finalizing the report to the district.