By David Harry
As Board of Education officials and school administrators discuss the future of Wentworth Intermediate School, one school parent is publicly asking for a clearer picture of the building’s air quality.
Board members since April have considered how to create a committee to discuss immediate and future needs for the school that serves third- through fifth-graders.
Aymie Hardesty wants the board to discuss comprehensive testing of the school’s air quality. She said her concern about the school came after her daughter started classes at Scarborough Middle School and had fewer absences than when she attended Wentworth.
Hardesty said she was further distressed when the school art room was closed this spring after a teacher became ill.
The closure led to air quality tests by Westbrook-based Northeast Test Consultants that are part of at least eight tests in 12 years, some brought about by complaints of health issues.
In addition to what the test report called “a severe physical reaction by the art teacher while utilizing art supplies,” Board of Education Chairman Brian Dell’Olio and Wentworth Principal Anne-Marye Dexter confirmed a Wentworth teacher has filed a grievance about working conditions at the school.
Dexter declined more comment on the grievance except to say it has been passed to Superintendent David Doyle’s office. The labor contract between teachers and the department allows union members four steps to resolve a grievance, culminating with arbitration.
Tests in March focused on the art room and in a tunnel below the school and occupied spaces above it. The results indicated “airborne mold and bacteria activity levels … are very low and would not pose increased health risks.”
Stachbotrys mold was found in sponges in the art room, although the levels “would not create a condition whereby persons were at risk for illness unless ingested.”
Aspergillis and cladosporium mold spores were found in low concentrations.
The three mold species can cause allergic and respiratory problems and the World Health Organization has said no level of stachbotrys or apsergillis is acceptable, according to the test report.
Higher levels of the mold spores were found in crawl spaces under occupied spaces in the north wing of the school, although test results indicated air in classrooms has not been affected by conditions below.
The report recommended hatches and doors to crawl spaces be secured, something Dexter said will be done in addition to installation of new windows to help alleviate damp conditions.
Dexter also said different areas of the school will be tested each year.
Test reports over the years commonly mention poor ventilation and damp conditions in the school and led to installation of additional venting systems and efforts to seal tunnels into the room.
Hardesty, who gathered results from tests conducted since 1998, has used the information to bolster her request for comprehensive testing of air quality, mold presence and radon levels at the school. She said she is unhappy about the lack of a documented maintenance record for the school.
She also has started a Facebook page that has drawn more than 60 members, including Wentworth faculty members. Staff members who joined the Facebook page did not respond to queries about school conditions.
Dexter, Dell’Olio and Board of Education member Jackie Perry have said the school’s age and lack of renovation make it the district’s biggest concern for future physical plant needs. The school is at least 55 years old and has had the addition of several portable classrooms.
Dexter says it’s clear to her why Wentworth may face more problems than primary schools of nearly the same age.
“They have been renovated and we haven’t,” she said.
Dell’Olio said the decision to renovate and how much to spend is complicated by concerns about spending too much tax money on a building that ultimately needs to be replaced. The board cannot ignore health worries stemming from conditions of the school or count on state assistance in building a new school, he said.
Scarborough voters turned down a referendum question, 61 percent to 39 percent, to replace Wentworth Intermediate in 2006.
Whatever the future course of the school, Hardesty said she is clear what she wants.
“I just want to know what we are dealing with,” she said.
Staff writer David Harry can be reached at 282-4337, ext. 219