WESTBROOK – Construction delays pushed back the opening of the new $34 million Westbrook Middle School this year, and the school’s students weren’t able to start school until Jan. 20, a couple of weeks later than planned.

The building’s steering committee accepted the middle school as substantially complete, and the city issued an occupancy permit. But some items on a “punch list” compiled by the construction company and the architect still needed to be completed.

Now, according to the Russ Brigham, director of facilities and transportation for the city and schools, the majority of those items are completed – or will be before school opens for the fall.

“It’s 99.9 percent finished,” Brigham said in an interview at the school last week.

He said that among items completed was the replacement of about 15 doors. The doors needed replacement for a variety of issues including being swollen due to the high humidity, and problems with hardware, Brigham said.

He said remaining items on the punch list include installing new dishwashers that will be used to wash equipment in science classrooms. The dishwashers shipped were too large to fit in the spaces in the classrooms reserved for them, Brigham said.

He said that anything that is not completed by the first day of school on Sept. 1 won’t prevent the school’s approximately 600 students and the staff from occupying the school.

“Occupancy won’t be hindered by whatever is remaining,” Brigham said.

Voters in 2007 approved building the 135,000-square-foot school. Initially, the school wasn’t slated to open until this fall, but Harvey Construction, the general manager of the project, said it could get the job done sooner. It was hoped the school would be ready for occupancy last December, but city inspectors said more work was needed before they would consider the building safe. The city finally approved occupancy in January.

Students were thrilled to be in the brand new building and safely spent the second half of the school year there.

But some construction items remained still to be completed, which Brigham said is typical of such a large construction project.

A number have been addressed this summer. For example, the finish on the gym floor was not acceptable so had to be completely stripped off and redone, Brigham said. The cost was covered because the school is still under warranty, he said.

Also this summer, the new building geothermal heating and cooling system needed adjustment, Brigham said. He said the cooling system was not removing enough moisture from the air. He said the problem has been corrected. During an hour-long tour of the school last week, the air conditioning seemed to be working well.

Rick Gouzie, the city’s code enforcement officer, said the problems with the heating and cooling system were not serious. “It was nothing that would stop anyone from being in the building,” he said. “It’s not a life and safety issue.”

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