At a special meeting last Thursday, the School Committee voted not to take action on a resolution that was passed at Town Meeting on March 10.
School Committee chairwoman Anne Ward called the meeting specifically to discuss taking action on Article 30, which was a resolution to request the School Committee to direct the railings to be redesigned or retrofitted to a greater height. The article passed at town meeting, 73-59, and is a non-binding article.
School Committee member Mary Lou Buell said she had spent time since Town Meeting trying to get up to speed on building codes and railing height issues. Through her research, she said she became more concerned about compromising the structural integrity of the building by altering the railings.
John Heinstadt, School Committee member, said he believed making the railing higher would create “a longer lever arm,” that could possibly make the railings less safe.
School Committee member Maureen Connolly thanked the School Building Committee for its hard work on the building, saying Duxbury students “are really lucky to be able to go to school in that building.” Connolly said that since the Town Meeting voter majority supported taking measures to increase the railing height at the new school, it was the responsibility of the School Committee to represent that vote and choose to take action.
“I don’t really see any question on this,” Connolly said. “The Fire and Police chiefs are in favor of raising the railings and we need to look to them as safety experts.”
Heinstadt said he felt the resolution is “very difficult and almost unworkable” for the committee. He cited the lack of a specific number or range of numbers for what the new railing height should be, as well as vague language about funding for the project.
Ward said she was concerned with how many of the comments about the railing height were based on feelings, as opposed to facts.
“It’s hard to make policy based on feelings,” she said. “It’s so difficult to come up with a solution based on individual perceptions. Some people perceive the risk as kids falling over, kids climbing over, kids dropping things; these are all based on perception.”
Ward also said the middle and high school principals have been working with the Student Council to add language to the Student Handbook regarding conduct in the hallways and along the atrium.
Kellie Bresnahan, school committee member, said she could understand where the concern about the railing height came from but said that, because she hadn’t been closely involved in the development and design of the building since the beginning, she didn’t feel she could make a proper decision now.
“It is hard for me to make a judgment call on how would I or how could I make a solution,” she said.
During the time allotted for public comment, Town Manage Rene Read said he met with town counsel Kevin Batt and, after confirming the article is entirely non-binding, he asked what the possible next steps could be. First, Batt said Read could speak with the proponent of the article, Bob Doyle, which Read did. When Read spoke with Doyle, Doyle suggested an internal rail be retrofitted to increase the height. Second, Batt said Read could speak with public safety officials, so Read met with Fire Chief Kevin Nord, who said the railings could be increased to 48 inches. Third, Batt suggested Read speak with the architect and ask what an appropriate height would be for the railings.
“I would hope if you asked the architect they would say 42 inches, since that is the current height of the railings,” Heinstadt said.
Elizabeth Lewis, School Building Committee chair, said the railings are built to withstand a 200-pound lateral load and all of the railings are up to code and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards. Lewis also addressed comments and concerns about the railing heights that have centered around kids throwing items over the balconies.
“Raising the railings will not keep one thing from being thrown over those rails,” she said.
After several more minutes of the discussion, the School Committee voted on whether to take action on the resolution. Bresnahan and Connolly voted to take action and Ward, Heinstadt and Buell voted not to take action. The next school committee meeting will be held on April 9.