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Parents upset about dust in Pa. middle school

April 17, 2005|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - The parent of a James Buchanan Middle School student said Friday his son missed three weeks of school because of illness caused by dust in the school building from an ongoing renovation project.

Dust and poor air quality in the building stemming from the construction has caused medical problems for numerous students, said Timothy Stanton of Mercersburg.

Children with asthma and other breathing problems particularly are at risk, he said.

Stanton was among a large group of parents who complained about the dust problem Monday to the Tuscarora School Board.

"The board has been hearing complaints from parents since last fall," Stanton said. The situation has been downplayed by the administration and the parents are getting fed up, he said.

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Schools Superintendent Thomas Stapleford said parents of two students pulled their children from school because of breathing difficulties caused by the dust. The students are receiving homebound instruction, he said.

Stapleford said records show that absenteeism in the middle school has remained average - around 95 percent - even with the construction.

He estimated that six students have been adversely affected by the air quality in the school.

The $13.5 million addition and renovation project at the 50-plus-year-old school building began in June.

When completed in October, there will be the equivalent of 20 new classrooms, a new library, a performing arts center and major renovations to the auditorium and gymnasium. The building will have air conditioning for the first time, Stapleford said.

He said the air quality and dust problems stem from a decision made last summer, when school was out, to rip up the asbestos tile that covered the concrete floors throughout the building. The adhesive also contained asbestos, Stapleford said.

"Then, they shot-blasted or sandblasted the floor to clean the concrete and it left a porous finish," he said. When classes resumed and the students roamed the halls en masse, it created the dust, he said.

"If we had it to do over, we would have done it differently," he said.

The new construction involves three sides of the building, he said.

"We do an addition, move the students into it, then renovate the space they left," he said. "It's being done stage by stage."

Stapleford said he "couldn't disagree" with the parents' contention that the administration should have acted sooner on the air quality problem.

He said the administration followed every recommendation of an industrial hygienist, including misting the floors and vacuuming the dust and doing periodic tests of the air quality.

"Whatever they tell us we need to do, we do," he said.

"Last week, we brought in high-efficiency filtering fans," he said. "It's been an incremental process."

The latest effort involves carpeting the hall floors, he said.

So far, the district has spent about $100,000 to improve the air quality in the school since construction began, Stapleford said.

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