The Westport school with many concerned parents and teachers will open on time this year, according to the district.
Despite mold, school will open on time
By Lisa Chamoff
Published August 23 2007
WESTPORT - A special committee working for the past three weeks to address air quality concerns at King's Highway Elementary School unanimously recommended that the school reopen next week.
"Usually, the question I am asked is, 'Would I send my child to this school?' " said committee member Gil Cormier, a New Britain-based air-quality specialist hired by the town. "I would send my child to this school."
Cormier and others have been testing and removing suspect carpeting, air conditioning units and ceiling tiles at King's Highway.
Mold was found last week behind the walls of the school's gymnasium, which is located below ground, and cleanup work is being done.
Work should be completed by week's end, said Gavin Anderson, the committee's chairman. The panel will continue to look for the source of moisture that got behind the walls.
Two modular classrooms used for music instruction will be closed until they can be examined further.
The school will reopen for teachers and staff on Monday, while children will return for class on Wednesday.
"What we have seen accomplished in the last three weeks has been pretty remarkable," Anderson said.
The committee was appointed by First Selectman Gordon Joseloff last month after parents complained that administrators did not properly address their concerns about a mold-infested modular classroom that was closed last fall, and other classrooms where students and teachers experienced respiratory ailments.
Cormier said that a fourth-grade classroom that concerned parents seemed to be in good shape, after carpeting and an air conditioning unit were removed.
The carpets in other classrooms will be cleaned with high efficiency particulate absorption, or HEPA, vacuums. Air conditioning units, ventilators and air handling units in all classrooms will be cleaned.
Ceiling tiles located near air conditioning units generally had higher levels of mold, Cormier said.
He said that turning the units on and off, causing temperature fluctuations, could be causing moisture problems.
Cormier recommends that the rooms be kept at constant temperatures.
Monica Wheeler, community health director for the Westport Weston Health District, presented some preliminary findings from a survey of 144 families with children at the school.
She said that some of the symptoms that families listed, such as migraines, fatigue and sinus headaches, seemed consistent with the high carbon dioxide levels that have been found at the school.
Three parents on the committee said they were confident that the school would be safe for their children.
Parent Brendan Reilly said he wanted to see a log of maintenance work at the school, as well as increased communication between school officials and parents.
"That is what's going to give parents the comfort level," Reilly said.
The committee will issue a final report in the coming weeks. Anderson said that the group's work was not done, and it has to ensure that the school environment continues to be safe.
The Board of Education had scheduled a special meeting last night to review the committee's recommendation, but it was canceled because the panel's report was positive.
Board of Education Chairwoman Mary Parmelee told the committee that the board will be requesting an appropriation from the town's finance board to pay for testing and cleanup efforts at King's Highway, as well as air-quality testing at the district's seven other schools.
Joseloff praised the committee for communicating openly and helping to restore parents' trust.
"I said early on that the goal was to make the school safe and restore confidence," Joseloff said. "I think we've done that through your hard work."
Copyright © 2007, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.