Lenox Memorial Middle & High School will switch to fully remote learning starting Wednesday, March 17. We expect to resume in-person instruction at LMMHS on Tuesday, March 23. The reason we are taking this action is explained in what follows.
About two weeks ago we closed LMMHS to in-person instruction for one day. The closing followed a windstorm during which small particulate debris fell from or through the drop ceiling in a number of classrooms and offices, as well as part of the cafeteria.
We were unsure of the chemical nature of the material that fell, all of which was found in the oldest parts of the building. As a precaution, we brought in a contractor who specializes in asbestos removal to do the cleanup. Air testing was done during the cleanup and then again at its completion in each area where debris had been found.
Last Wednesday I received a written report from the air quality contractor. The report indicated two facts of note.
1./ The material that was cleaned up was vermiculite, a fire retardant substance. As was common practice in the 1960s, when the school was built, it was sprayed on I-beams. According to the report the vermiculite, because of when it was applied, should be assumed to contain asbestos. This was the first confirmation for me that asbestos was likely an issue throughout the oldest part of the school.
2./ Air quality testing done during and after the cleanup showed that the fiber per cubic centimeter (f/cc) readings made in the areas where the debris was found were many times lower than the OSHA threshold for workplace safety.
In other words, friable asbestos was not an immediate concern. The particulate matter that had fallen on surfaces inside the school during the windstorm was not airborne even when it was disturbed during the cleanup. Nevertheless, having received notice of the presence of traces of what apparently was non-friable asbestos in certain areas of LMMHS, we decided to act swiftly to remove the vermiculite and seal the structural gaps that had allowed the fire retardant installed over a half-century ago to be disturbed.
Late Friday we reached agreement with the removal and air quality testing contractors that their work would begin on Wednesday, March 17. We originally intended to start the work on Tuesday, March 16. But I was reminded that students and staff members left school on Friday unaware that the building would be closed for several days this coming week. They might need to bring instructional materials home with them for the days when on-site remediation is proceeding. We decided therefore to delay the start of the work by one day. Doing so will better ensure that remote instruction during this interval can be academically productive.
I want to stress that this effort is precautionary. We have no evidence that the particulate matter found after the windstorm would have posed a health risk to anyone. Nevertheless, we have decided to err on the side of caution, if error it is, to eliminate immediately the need for further piecemeal solutions, and to eliminate the fire retardant material from LMMHS and to close the building’s air gaps that exacerbated the problem.
We expect the work to be completed in time for in-person instruction to resume on Tuesday, March 23. If that date needs to be extended then we will provide staff, students, and families timely notice of that being so.
Thank you for your understanding. It is regrettable that you and we must now deal with one more complication in what has already been a complicated and stressful school year for everyone.