The new North County High School may open for students on Sept. 13. And then again, it may not.
School officials are expected to determine today exactly when students will be able to start classes, a decision that depends on how "finished" the building has to be in order for students to occupy it.
Last week, the Sept. 13 date was announced and principal William Wentworth sent letters with that date to parents.
Maybe he should have waited.
"There is some discussion about that date [Sept. 13] not being cast in concrete at this point," said Michael Raible, director of planning and construction for the school system. "There's discussion about that being the latest date."
Classes were originally slated to start Sept. 7 in the former Lindale Middle School building, which is being renovated as the new high school. That would be three school days later than the start date on Wednesday for all other students in the school system.
Delays in construction and an underground leak in the sprinkler system in the renovated building caused school officials to announce the later opening. But as the situation was being evaluated late last week, those officials found they may have been overly pessimistic.
The sprinkler system has been repaired and the state fire marshal is scheduled to test it this morning.
"That's kind of the last deal breaker in terms of an opening date," Mr. Raible said. "If for some reason it doesn't pass, then we'll be scrambling."
There also have been some problems with contractors not meeting deadlines, although Mr. Raible said the school system will wait until the project is finished before discussing whether fines are in order.
L The delay and uncertainty has some parents a little annoyed.
"It's just a surprising thing that the planning couldn't be better," said Don Bender of Ferndale, whose daughter will enter the 11th grade. Students such as his daughter have already endured more than two years of school in a facility that housed two combined high schools.
"Their educational experience has suffered, I think, because of that," he said.
Mr. Bender noted the long fight North County parents have staged to correct what they perceived as an inequity in school facilities. For years, they claimed that both Andover and Brooklyn Park high schools were too small to offer a full range of classes. School officials answered those objections by combining the two schools into North County High.
"I guess it's just one more frustration," Mr. Bender said of the delay.
But Mr. Raible, who said officials had always known the school's completion date would come down to the wire, defends the construction performance. North County will be completed 10 1/2 months after construction began. He compares that with the 15 months it normally takes to build an elementary school, which is about one-third the size of a high school.
"From that standpoint, to miss it by a few days, you have to keep it in perspective," Mr. Raible said.
As it now stands, orientation days are scheduled for 9th grade students on Sept. 8, and for 10th grade students on Sept. 9. School starts for 9th and 10th grade students on Sept. 13. On Tuesday, Sept. 14, only 11th and 12th grade students will report. On Wednesday, Sept. 15, all students will start classes.
But all that could change based on what school administrators decide today. Officials admit the late decision could be confusing for students and parents and could be a factor in leaving the schedule as it is.
"We're aware notification has gone out. There was some concern that even a mailing will be difficult to get out [in time]. That will have to be taken into consideration," Mr. Raible said. "We're certainly aware of the difficulty of notification and that will be part of the decision."
If the school district opts for the later date, students will start eight school days later than students at other county schools, and very likely will have to make those days up.
School officials say they will petition state Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick for a waiver for some or all of the days North County students will fall short of the 180 required. If that doesn't work, "we'll have to tack them on somewhere," said Nancy Jane Adams, a school system spokeswoman.
Teachers union president Thomas J. Paolino said he has yet to hear a word of complaint from any teacher, on the late start or the fact that they will not be able to get into their classrooms until Wednesday.
"They're giving the teachers what I feel is a significant amount of time to get their classrooms ready," Mr. Paolino said. He also applauded the staggered start on Monday and Tuesday. "There are going to be hundreds of kids coming into a building they've never been in before," he said.
Construction workers will need a little more time to finish two projects at the new school: the auditorium and the athletic fields. The auditorium, which was damaged in a construction accident in April, will not be completed until November. The fields, which were being graded on Friday, will have sod placed on them in early October. They should be ready for use in spring sports, Mr. Raible said.
Now, with students vacating the former Andover High School, work will proceed on converting that building into a middle school. Asbestos removal should begin sometime early next year, with completion of that project set for September 1995.