This week, Duxbury selectmen heard from the proponent of a proposal to increase the height of the second and third floor hallway railings in the new middle and high schools as well as a member of the school building committee who said the railings are safe as designed.
Old Cove Street resident Bob Doyle has placed a citizen’s petition article on the annual town meeting warrant that requests the town’s approval to raise the height of the railings from 42” to six feet. Article 30 seeks to redesign or retrofit the railings using structural glass, plastic, aluminum rods or some other material. The purpose is to prevent students from falling off or objects be- ing dropped over the railings in the second and third floor corridors and from the two walkways that span the three- story atrium.
There are six balconies, three on each floor, and there are two bridges on the third floor that cross to the library. The second floor is 15 feet high and the third floor is 30 feet high.
Both the second and third floors have two types of barriers that are at the same 42” height: one is an open metal railing and other is a solid wall. Doyle is concerned about both. He said the solid wall measures six inches wide at the top – wide enough for students to sit on and fall off or for objects to be placed on top and knocked off. Doyle stated that the open railings have enough space between them for students to get their feet between the bars and stand on the bottom, bringing them up six inches higher above the railings.
He is concerned about the safety of students.
“The railings have been built to a minimum code and that minimum code is not satisfactory for the students,” said Doyle. “I feel there needs to be a more stringent code for this environment. To me, it’s strictly a matter of safety.”
Doyle believes that the height of the railings are an accident waiting to happen.
“The general nature of kids is to horseplay,” he said. “If they start to horseplay on those balconies, somebody is going to get knocked off. There will be a very serious accident unless something is done about those railings.”
Matt Ali, an architect and member of the school building committee, responded to Doyle’s concerns, saying that the committee feels the railings are safe.
“I feel strongly about safety in this school,” said Ali, adding that the committee discussed the railing heights with the project architect and were in agreement that there were not any “acute safety concerns” with them.
The railings are built to the building code, he said, and railings of the same height are found in many newly built schools such as Whitman- Hanson High School and Oliver Ames High School. Duxbury’s Performing Arts Center also has 42” railings, said Ali, and there have never been any dangerous incidents there.
Ali said he has discussed the railing heights with both the middle and high school principals, speaking to them about “violent behavior and self-inflicted harm” at the schools. Neither had any concerns about the railings. Ali said that the principals have said that there has been one violent incident involving a student hitting another student in the middle school in the last five years, and none in the high school.
“There is no concern by the principals on this particular subject. They have both stated that they are comfortable with this design,” Ali said. “There are clear sightlines in the atrium and this will aid in the supervision and policing of this space.”
Ali said the school building committee stands by its design.
“As a committee, we don’t feel there has been any negligence on the part of the school committee, the architect, or our committee and we don’t see the need to raise the railing height,” he said.
Increasing the railing heights will make the building “look more like a jail than a school,” Ali said.
Selectmen chairman Da- vid Madigan agreed: “Forty- two inches should be fine if the supervision and the discipline is there to prevent kids from sitting along the wall.”
Ali said preliminary discussions about the cost of changing the railings put a guess in the $500,000 range, but he added that the commit- tee has not asked for a cost estimate because that costs money. If the open metal railings were changed to a solid material, Ali said it would impact the heating and venti- lating systems as well as the smoke exhaust systems because they were designed for open railings. Also, if there are any changes to the building, then Ali said it could delay the scheduled September opening.
Doyle has said that he is not concerned with how much it costs to make the railings safer. His article states that the school committee could identify where the funding would come from for the changes, such as from the uncommitted contingency funds voted at the special town meeting in 2011.
“I’m not interested in the money,” said Doyle. “I’m interested in the safety of those kids.”
When reached after the meeting, Ali stated that the school building committee will be putting together a formal response to Doyle’s article and that it feels that the annual town meeting is “not a forum for managing a project.”