No. Ston­ing­ton school de­lays open­ing

Tests re­veal high lev­els of banned ma­te­ri­als in three rooms of el­e­men­tary build­ing

The Day - - REGION - By NATE LYNCH Day Staff Writer

North Ston­ing­ton — The start of the aca­demic year was abruptly post­poned for stu­dents at North Ston­ing­ton El­e­men­tary School, af­ter air test­ing for haz­ardous ma­te­ri­als led to three rooms in the build­ing be­ing closed and left ad­min­is­tra­tors lit­tle time to re­or­ga­nize the fa­cil­ity.

The school, where classes were sup­posed to start on Wed­nes­day, will re­main closed un­til Tuesday, Sept. 5, Prin­ci­pal Veron­ica Wilk­i­son said.

Su­per­in­ten­dent of Schools Peter Nero in­formed staff and par­ents in emails and voice­mail mes­sages Tuesday af­ter­noon, af­ter dis­cussing the air test results with representatives from the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency of­fice in Bos­ton.

The test­ing was the lat­est devel­op­ment in a years­long ef­fort by the district to mon­i­tor the schools for the pres­ence of poly­chlo­ri­nated biphenyls, or PCBs.

PCBs are vis­cous liq­uids val­ued for their flame-re­sis­tant sta­bil­ity that were used in win­dow caulk­ing, some paints and other build­ing ma­te­ri­als. In 1979, the EPA banned the ma­te­ri­als from new con­struc­tion, as the agency con­sid­ers the chem­i­cals prob­a­ble car­cino­gens, and set ex­po­sure guide­lines for their con­sump­tion and in­hala­tion.

The state Depart­ment of En­ergy and En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion and the EPA have been work­ing with the district on ad­di­tional test­ing to de­ter­mine the ex­tent of PCB con­tam­i­na­tion in the school.

The most re­cent round of test­ing was con­ducted in the month of Au­gust, and sam­pled a num­ber of lo­ca­tions in the build­ing for dust and air com­po­si­tion.

Higher-than-rec­om­mended lev­els of PCBs were found in three rooms: the music room, the school's li­brary and a room that housed the school's math in­ter­ven­tion­ists and speech lan­guage pathol­o­gist.

Con­cen­tra­tions of PCBs in those rooms were high in both “air and sur­face sam­ples” wrote Emily Ben­der, a public af­fairs spe­cial­ist at the EPA, in an email Wed­nes­day.

Nero said that the lev­els were higher than the EPA ex­po­sure guide­lines for el­e­men­tary school-age chil­dren. The lev­els did not ex­ceed the guide­lines for adults.

The wipe tests, which as­sess whether dust in the school con­tains high con­cen­tra­tions of PCBs, came back clear, Nero said. But the area car­pets in the class­rooms needed to be re­moved and dis­posed, as well as some car­pet tiles in one small area in the en­trance to the school.

The results of test­ing con­ducted by Ea­gle En­vi­ron­men­tal LLC still were be­ing fi­nal­ized on Wed­nes­day.

The district has long known about the ex­is­tence of PCBs in school build­ings. PCBs could be in as many as two-thirds of Con­necti­cut public schools, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis by WNPR. Ren­o­va­tions of both the el­e­men­tary school and Wheeler Mid­dle/High School in­clude money to com­pletely re­me­di­ate the po­ten­tially toxic chem­i­cals.

“I’ve been here for six years and I said we need to get this done from the be­gin­ning,” Nero said.

Once the school made the de­ci­sion to close the three rooms, Wilk­i­son said district of­fi­cials quickly worked to de­velop a plan to move in­struc­tion out of the closed rooms, but re­al­ized that there was too much work to get the school ready in time for Wed­nes­day, the orig­i­nal first day of school.

The district has long sought tem­po­rary so­lu­tions for the haz­ardous ma­te­ri­als, with the ex­pec­ta­tion that even­tu­ally a build­ing project would be funded that would solve the prob­lem.

Since the first build­ing project was pro­posed in 2014, Nero said he has been in­form­ing both DEEP and the EPA that a school build­ing project would re­solve their con­cerns about PCBs. The cur­rent plan is to move the el­e­men­tary school stu­dents out of the build­ing in De­cem­ber 2018 so the build­ing can be ren­o­vated and PCBs re­moved.

How­ever, the state bud­get im­passe has com­pli­cated things: Since the state leg­is­la­ture hasn’t yet passed a bond­ing pack­age that in­cludes money for school con­struc­tion, the town’s project has been de­layed into the fall.

“If the state had a bud­get, we would have bro­ken ground in July,” Nero said.

Crews will be work­ing to en­cap­su­late some of the sources of PCBs in the three af­fected rooms, but the rooms will be closed for the time be­ing, Nero said.

On Wed­nes­day, the school had hired a com­pany to vac­uum dust from books in the school’s li­brary and move them out of the room. Staff mem­bers moved the books up­stairs into a spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion of­fice, which will be used as a tem­po­rary li­brary, Wilk­i­son said.

There was briefly con­cern that the books couldn’t be used be­cause the book­shelves in the li­brary can’t be moved, but Wilk­i­son put out a call Wed­nes­day morn­ing to teach­ers to do­nate book­shelves for the makeshift li­brary, and many teach­ers came in to do­nate theirs, she said, thank­ing the “amaz­ing staff” for their gen­eros­ity.

Music in­struc­tion may be brought into class­rooms rather than hav­ing a ded­i­cated music room, Nero said.

The math in­ter­ven­tion­ists and speech lan­guage pathol­o­gist will be moved sep­a­rately to other spa­ces in the build­ing.

Un­like the orig­i­nal first day of school, the new first day on Tuesday, Sept. 5, will be a full day of classes.

“The most im­por­tant thing is kids and staff are safe,” Wilk­i­son said. “We’re still go­ing to have a great first day and a great year.”

The school board will hold a spe­cial meet­ing with the su­per­in­ten­dent at 7 p.m. Thurs­day, Aug. 31, in the el­e­men­tary school’s mul­ti­pur­pose room to dis­cuss the results of the test­ing, what steps the district is tak­ing and address any con­cerns that par­ents might have, Carl­son said. Representatives from Ea­gle En­vi­ron­men­tal also will be present.

“I’ve been here for six years and I’ve said we need to get this done from the be­gin­ning.” PETER NERO, NORTH STON­ING­TON SU­PER­IN­TEN­DENT OF SCHOOLS

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