Pinelands Regional Schools Reopen on Tuesday

But Tensions Remain as Some Parents Refuse to Believe Air Quality Test Results
Oct 10, 2017
Photo by: Jack Reynolds Workers were busy on the roof of Pinelands Regional High School Tuesday, Oct. 3.


Air quality tests may have given Pinelands Regional High School a clean bill of health, but the tension surrounding the situation resulting from a roof replacement project has not evaporated.

Indeed, the tension may becoming even more volatile.

Both the high school and junior high reopened on Tuesday morning after being closed from last Tuesday through Friday as the testing was conducted at the high school and remained closed to students on Monday as a result of previously scheduled in-service staff training. The junior high was closed to keep the two schools on the same schedule.

Acting Superintendent (Interim Superintendent Maryann Banks is reportedly out of the country on vacation) Cheryl Stevenson posted a press release on the district’s website informing students, staff and members of the school community of the reopening and explaining last week’s closures.

“As Acting Superintendent, I decided to close schools on 10/3/17, 10/4/17, 10/5/17, and 10/6/17 as a precautionary measure to assure the safety of students and staff. During the closing of school, TTI Environmental Inc., the District’s environmental consultant, conducted Air Quality tests and Asbestos Air Sampling Tests to confirm results of previous tests. These additional testing measures were done as precautionary so as to assure the continued health and safety of our staff and students.”

Stevenson went on to say that the district received the results of the asbestos tests on Oct. 4 and “the results confirmed to be within federal and state standards.” But the results of the additional air quality tests weren’t delivered until approximately 7 p.m. on Oct. 5 and “due to the late time in receiving the results and to err on the side of caution, TTI Environmental wanted more time to further analyze the report.”

“On Friday (Oct. 6),” Stevenson continued, “we met with all of the contractors and at that meeting TTI Environmental, having the appropriate time to fully review the report, gave us verbal confirmation that the high school was safe for occupancy. We were also provided recommendations to use filters to expedite the removal of any transient substances that were producing unfamiliar odors that raised the concerns of staff and students. Moving forward, the district’s consultants are working together to alter construction scheduling and protocols to help alleviate many of the issues and concerns received from members of the school community.”

Stevenson also said, “We are committed to implementing frequent, routine air sampling assessments for both asbestos and VOCs (volatile organic compounds) to verify continued satisfactory air quality, and to avoid any issues that put the safety of our students and staff at risk.

“We have taken immediate counter measures to try to alleviate some of the concerns. One measure included using filter units to help expedite the removal of any substances that are causing odors. As we speak, filter units that have been graciously loaned to us free of cost from Synatec are being utilized in the High School building.

“Although we are resuming normal operations of our schools, we will be continuing efforts to improve the cleanliness of the schools. An enhanced cleaning protocol will be put into effect to address the dust and unfamiliar odors associated with building construction.

“Finally, we are committed to providing routine and thorough air quality testing in both the High School and Junior High to assure the health and safety of both staff and students.”

Stevenson ended her statement by saying a construction and air quality update presentation will occur during the Pinelands Regional Board of Education meeting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 11 in the junior high media venter.

It may be a very long meeting. Stevenson’s statement did little to allay the fears of some parents who have been pounding the district on Facebook.

They have been busy posting, with some saying they were going to hold their kids out of school until after the board meeting. They were organizing a protest outside of the high school on Tuesday morning. They were saying on Tuesday that there were workers on the roof despite a press release that said there would be no roof work conducted each day until 3 p.m. (The SandPaper could not find such a press release and Stevenson denied ever saying that.) They’re questioning test results and some want the school closed until the Occupational Health and Safety Administration gives the all-clear. They are also saying the district’s staff has been ordered not to talk to reporters or comment on the situation. A Facebook site called the NJ Incident Alert Network has spread the story statewide and beyond (a CBS New York news crew showed up at the high school on Tuesday morning).

Most importantly, parents are now concerned about the safety of the junior high school as well. Concerns are spreading; fear is creating new fears.

The situation will not calm down with posts such as this one from around 10:05 a.m. Tuesday on Facebook:

“This is my daughter texting me:

“‘So mom, they said there is no asbestos and the tests are good but I’m in Spanish room and some of us are outside in the hallway coughing & my throat is hurting and eyes and I’m getting a bad migraine from how bad the chemicals smell is; even the teacher is losing his voice so he called down the principal now to switch rooms but we have been waiting for like 30 minutes and he not even here either.’”

Much of the parents’ anger springs from a Sept. 10 letter that was sent to the district from James Eberts, the president of Epic Environmental Services, the firm that was conducting air quality tests for the roof project architect, Garrison Architects, at that time (The district itself has since hired TTI). The letter appears on the district’s website and has since been widely disseminated in the community.

“At this time, it is assumed that the cleaning of the entire roof in the areas containing asbestos was incomplete, and that small amounts of asbestos roofing remains in the flutes.”

The letter went on to say “there is no evidence that either the asbestos removal activities or the newly discovered issue have impacted the air quality in the school, and that airborne asbestos contamination is not present in the school.

“However, there is asbestos containing debris remaining on the roof deck, and it must be removed. In its present state, there is the potential for roofing debris to continue to enter the school, especially for classrooms with a perforated deck. Construction activities will continue to deteriorate the debris and will cause safety hazards and air quality issues. Based on previous data, asbestos contamination inside the building is not expected during this process.

“It is recommended that rooftop activities cease immediately until a permanent remedy for this situation is determined. Debris is not expected to enter the areas in question if no rooftop activities are occurring. Therefore classrooms in this section of the school may remain occupied when there is no rooftop work occurring directly overhead.”

Parents wonder why roof work was allowed to continue, despite reports, confirmed by the district itself, of dust collecting in at least some of the classrooms under the roof.

— Rick Mellerup


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