Pinelands Regional Schools Closed in Response to Asbestos Possibility

Oct 03, 2017
Photo by: Jack Reynolds Workers were busy on the roof of Pinelands Regional High School Tuesday. Both the high school and junior high were closed for air quality testing.

There is a problem at Pinelands Regional High School, possibly a major problem. Both the high school and the junior high school were closed on Tuesday and were scheduled to be closed on Wednesday as well.

The reason was explained in a terse press release: “In order to assure the health and safety of the students and staff, the Pinelands Regional School District Acting Superintendent, Dr. Cheryl Stevenson has closed schools on October 3rd and October 4th to conduct further air quality testing related to the construction project occurring at the high school. As a precautionary measure, an air quality test will be done to address concerns brought before the Board at their October 2, 2017 meeting. TTI Environmental, the District’s environmental consultant, will conduct tests to verify no asbestos or harmful VOCs (volatile organic compounds, emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids) exist in the building.

“Please visit the Health and Safety page on the District’s website to view the results of previous tests conducted by the District that indicate no asbestos or harmful materials exist in our building. The information can be found at

“Please contact Dr. Cheryl Stevenson at 609-296-3106, Ext. 3281 or by email with any concerns.”

The SandPaper had received a Facebook message early Tuesday afternoon from a concerned parent who had attended Monday evening’s working session meeting of the board, repeated here verbatim: “They closed the school today pinelands regional school district and are testing the School for asvestos (sic) and other unhealthy substances our kids are breathing in. As of last night with parents there begging for the school to be closed til (sic) all testing is done they finally listened after a parent asked the president of the committee (Board of Education). Would you send your grandson into the school tomorrow with all our kids there we would all as parents like to invite them. The president said No. The teacher in classroom d wing was complaining of sore throats as well as kids, some teachers and students had hives. Also the teacher offered to show pictures of the classroom to the board as well as the contractor but they did not want to see it. The teacher stated that the particles flying in the classroom is falling onto the floors the students (sic) desks and they can literally write their name on them that is how much is falling. One student had a tile fall on their head and its not good. Also the contractor stated someone forgot to shut the ventilation system down so now we have the particles that are falling from the tiles and in the duct work and throughout the school. We as parents are asking for your help. Get us some more answers tti (the District’s environmental consultant) is there today now the environmentalist testing the school for contamination. The school is closed until testing is done and a answer should come back in 24 hrs. We also have a board of education meeting on Oct. 11th but we need answers now we didn’t get all of the questions we asked answered this is why we as a whole of this community have to come to you to get us answers.”

Another parent, who, like the one posting on Facebook, didn’t want to be identified, said after being contacted by The SandPaper that Tuesday’s meeting, attended by about 20 people, was heated at times.

Early in the evening a very busy District Business Administrator Stephen Brennan responded to a SandPaper inquiry which asked if there was still asbestos on the high school roof, if the board and administration were aware of complaints of falling tiles and dust and why Interim Superintendent Maryann Banks wasn’t at Tuesday’s meeting.

He didn’t answer the question of asbestos on the roof. On Sept. 10, James Eberts, the president of Epic Environmental Services, had sent the district a letter/memo which stated, “At this time, it is assumed that the cleaning of the entire roof in the areas containing asbestos was incomplete, and small amounts of asbestos roofing remain in the flutes.”

Brennan, however, did say the district had received an “all clear” concerning asbestos on Aug. 31. He referred The SandPaper to an Epic Environmental report dated Aug. 31 (which can be found on the Pinelands website) and added, “You will see that subsequent air tests also did not indicate any unacceptable levels of asbestos.”

In other words, there was asbestos on the roof, but not in the building.

As for falling tiles and dust, Brennan said, “Prior to your email, I have not heard reports of ceiling tiles falling on students heads. I will look into that claim. As for dust particles falling in rooms, once that was reported we ceased roof work in the area noted and investigated. Based on that investigation, we relocated the affected classrooms and instructed the contractor to clean that area of the school. We also insisted on removal and replacement of the roof work which we determined to be the cause of the debris problem. As you can see we conducted air testing in the area with results indicating no unacceptable levels of asbestos. I think the press release will explain the added precautions we took based on the public concern expressed in our October 2 meeting.”

Brennan also said Banks isn’t missing in action.

“Dr. Banks is out of the country at the moment (on) vacation. Dr. Stevenson is filling in for her absence.”

Board President Susan M. Ernst also responded to a SandPaper email.

“I will look for the Environmental report you quoted. I have not seen it. … Honestly, I do not remember it ever being given to the Board at a meeting. The only thing I do remember being told is that, of course, there was asbestos in the roofing. But it was not friable!”

Ernst also explained her and Brennan’s late response to emails.

“Meetings started at 8:30 this morning with Garrison (Architects), New Road (the district’s construction firm), principals, Dr. Stevenson, and member of the ad hoc committee and were still in progress when I left at 3PM. Obviously, it has been a long, stressful day … and many critical questions needed to be addressed … including transparent communication to the public. I’m all for that!”

As the meetings were going on, a swarm of workers were busy on the high school roof.

— Rick Mellerup

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