WEST SPRINGFIELD, Va. - It is only three weeks into the start of the new school year and some parents and students at West Springfield High School said things are not off to a great start. The school has just begun a three-year multi-million dollar renovation project that everyone agrees is badly needed. But after a series of incidents and problems, some worry the work is now putting students at risk.
Students documenting the start of the school year at West Springfield are getting some pretty unique images. On Monday, photos of flooding had students joking that the school suddenly had a pool. Some students even clung to fences so they wouldn't get their shoes soaked in deep puddles as they walked in between trailers now serving as classrooms.
“When it’s raining, it’s the worst,” said senior student Wolf Zachar. “Because you get these big pools, these lakes and people always have to go around them.”
On Wednesday, school was canceled after an equipment fire sent smoke into the ventilation system.
There have also been several pictures on social media posted of students walking in overcrowded halls and confined spaces. With a portion of the school shut down for construction, the teenagers said they are being marked tardy because they can't move quickly enough through these areas.
“There are a lot of narrow spaces and some people have to walk from the trailers to the school, and I am one of those that has to walk from the trailers to the other end of the school and I have to run so I am not marked tardy,” said Sydney Bristow.
This is the first major renovation at West Springfield High School since 1966. The project will upgrade the school from top to bottom and add a new science and fine arts wing while expanding the library.
School district officials said it will be beautiful when it is finished, but many parents believe getting there is proving to be much uglier and dangerous than expected.
“That's tragedy waiting to happen and that scares the daylights out of me,” said one parent. “Again, this is the third week of school. Something needs to be done. Someone needs to look at this and say this isn’t working the way we thought it would and we need to evaluate it and make some better choices.”
“I don't feel they are safe,” said Tarek Nabhan, the father of two students at the school. “I know construction had to be done, but I thought it would be better planning so it didn’t happen this way. Hopefully they will pay attention to the concerns of parents and they do something about it.”
Some people said there are exposed pipes in the ceiling that are leaking and some students are reporting difficulty focusing in class because of the noise along with coming home from school with headaches. Several parents said they were worried about their child’s asthma as well.
Fairfax County Public Schools said in a statement that they have a lot of experience with this kind of construction and there are 14 schools under construction in the county currently. They said safety is their top priority and they work hard to keep students and staff away from the work. They also said there is a full-time safety specialist who inspects these construction sites and monitors air quality. They also do background checks on all of the workers.
This project is expected to be completed in 2019.