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The Elephant in the Basement

GreeancresPlan(This is the opinion of Scarsdale10583 site founder Joanne Wallenstein.) As we prepare to scrape off decades of paint from the walls of Greenacres Elementary School, lift up cracked linoleum flooring and remove asbestos ceiling tiles, no one knows what will be unearthed underneath. And then what? On Monday December 11 the Board of Education is poised to approve a community-wide bond referendum for an expansive addition to the Greenacres Elementary School, though many questions remain about the viability of the existing building, constructed on a high water table in 1916, 1920 and 1929.

We've tried to get answers to these questions...

Parents have asked the faculty for their thoughts about the school:

• What are the working conditions in the school?
• Have they had health issues due to air quality?
• Can the current structure facilitate 21st Century learning?

The teachers meet our questions with averted eyes and it's evident they are not permitted to speak candidly about their experiences inside the building. What are they hiding and why?

Then there's the environmental testing. After we smelled the mildew in the basement and heard rumors about mold in the building, we asked repeatedly for air quality testing. With the decision for a bond referendum just weeks away and the building committee disbanded, the district finally went ahead with the tests. Lo and behold, at the eleventh hour, they did find mold. In fact after months of delay, the response to Scarsdale10583's FOIL request revealed a long history of moisture and mold in the building. Certainly the district is now doing everything possible to clean it up, but as Assistant Superintendent Stuart Mattey admitted, "We are installing dehumidifiers in the basement to keep it as dry as possible."

Discussing the results of the environmental testing, Superintendent Hagerman said the district had tested 400 sites in the "occupied portions" of the building. What about the unoccupied portions? Has anyone tested those to see if mold is growing there? Don't we need to find the source of the mold? Is it in the dirt crawlspaces underneath the building and behind the classroom walls? How can we otherwise know what the real cost of a building renovation will be? And how can we know whether or not the infrastructure problems can truly be remediated?

The air quality tests also measured the humidity level in the building. The report on the district website says, "The chief problem with high indoor humidity from a health standpoint is the potential for mold growth. Humidity levels greater than 30% increase the potential for mold growth and high humidity, 60% or greater can cause biological contamination." The humidity levels in on the lower level of the school ranged from 63% to 71% and the humidity in the gym was measured at 65%. What are they proposing to do about it?

Another unresolved health concern is the lead pipes. We've been told that for the most part these pipes will remain within the walls and that the district will continue to do periodic testing and use lead filters to make the water safe to drink. Are lead filters a permanent solution? As the pipes age, do they leach more lead into the water? What if the thresholds for safe drinking water are changed in the future? What is the useful life of these lead pipes? What is the cost to do this testing and purchase filters for the next 50 years?

Without this vital information, we can't assess whether it makes sense to add onto the building. If we give the plan the go ahead and the construction crews open the walls and find mold, what will we do?

We need to slow down and get answers. Give the faculty the permission to speak frankly about their views on the building and any health and safety issues they may have. Permit a thorough and independent environmental assessment of the building, and appoint a committee of parents to oversee the work. Lift the veil of fear about open discussion and let's find the right solution together. All of this secrecy makes us skeptical.

The district is rushing to put the referendum to a vote without providing the community with the facts. Stop hiding what you do know and stop preventing the investigation of what we need to know. Let's confront the elephant in the room, or should I say the elephant in the basement. Find out what's down there and then we can discuss what to do next.

Comments   

#25 Response to #22 GA Dad 2017-12-14 10:59
I did not arrive at any conclusion about the mold. I arrived at the conclusion that I do not have confidence in the school administration.

A vote of no confidence is a good enough reason to vote against the bond.
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#24 GA Dad 2017-12-13 17:58
On some level I don't disagree. Should they have realized that the dehumidifiers weren't working - of course. Should the schools be tested regularly for air quality - probably. I can't argue with any of that.

However, is there a serious mold or water infiltration problem at GA that needs to be remediated? No, sorry I just don't see how you can arrive at that conclusion.

Quoting Response to #22 GA Dad:
Your own comment shows laziness and negligence by the school administration. They only discovered the dehumidifiers were not working because Joanne kept asking them to check things out. This is just one example of a pattern of ignoring public concerns until forced to respond, and then responding only enough to band-aid the problem. Their whole attitude is wrong and explains why people do not have confidence in them.
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#23 Response to #22 GA Dad 2017-12-13 16:51
Your own comment shows laziness and negligence by the school administration. They only discovered the dehumidifiers were not working because Joanne kept asking them to check things out. This is just one example of a pattern of ignoring public concerns until forced to respond, and then responding only enough to band-aid the problem. Their whole attitude is wrong and explains why people do not have confidence in them.
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#22 GA Dad 2017-12-13 14:40
Here is what I heard:

- There were water infiltration issues years ago that were corrected. Since that time, there has not been any infiltration issues.
- Humidity levels are still high in the basement and are controlled with de-humidifiers.
- After the recent elevated mold levels were found (in 4 out of 400 samples) they found that some of the de-humidifiers were not working properly. These will be fixed and new commercial units are planned as part of the renovation.
- BBS thoroughly inspected the basement and found no evidence of water infiltration.
- The District's hygentist who tested for mold said it is not uncommon to find mold from time to time in older buildings. He has also found elevated levels at Fox Meadow and Edgewood in the past.
- Anywhere there is moisture, there is the possibility of elevated mold levels. This includes, under sinks or any type of condensation units. It is found in new and old buildings.

If I got any of this wrong, let me know. Thanks.

Quoting Resident:
Thank you GA Dad for suggesting watching that section of the meeting. I just did and it looks to me like the water issues at GA are very significant. They keep doing fix after fix after fix. I can’t imagine how anyone can think it is a good idea to spend $35mm adding on to a building with these water issues.
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#21 Resident 2017-12-13 14:11
Thank you GA Dad for suggesting watching that section of the meeting. I just did and it looks to me like the water issues at GA are very significant. They keep doing fix after fix after fix. I can’t imagine how anyone can think it is a good idea to spend $35mm adding on to a building with these water issues.
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#20 GA Dad 2017-12-13 10:13
This is what's wrong with our community right now. 4 people have "dis-liked" my comment which said nothing except to point people to an informative discussion on mold and air quality at GA. I am only pointing people towards the facts and then they can make up their own mind how they feel.

Feels like people think there is this vast conspiracy by the Administration to cover things up. Why would that ever be in their best interest? They would be opening themselves to all sorts of issues if that was true including lawsuits with no upside for them.

Quoting GA Dad:
Everyone should watch the Board Meeting from Dec 11th. There is an extensive discussion on mold and air quality at Greenacres. The District’s engineers and third party inspector discuss the current state of the building and prospects for future issues. Then people should make up their own mind whether this is really an issue.
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#19 GA Dad 2017-12-12 23:53
Everyone should watch the Board Meeting from Dec 11th. There is an extensive discussion on mold and air quality at Greenacres. The District’s engineers and third party inspector discuss the current state of the building and prospects for future issues. Then people should make up their own mind whether this is really an issue.
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#18 Joanne Wallenstein 2017-12-12 22:03
Moldman - check your facts. Air conditioning will be installed in the Old Multipurpose Room and the Library - NOT THE GYM. There is now a complete project list available. Also, the board and administration spent quite a lot of time speaking about the veracity of the comments on this site - so please use your real name. I identify myself - and you can too.
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#17 Moldman 2017-12-12 15:09
Joanne,

The Board approved permanent AC for the gym and multi purpose rooms several weeks ago as part of the recommendations by the GA Building Committee. The cost for temporary AC was basically equivalent to permanent so they voted for permanent AC.

As for mold, you can't unequivocally say that you have none. If you hire a third party mold inspector they are bound to find mold somewhere in your house. It just may not be visible or not making anyone sick. Do I think you have green or black mold growing all over your walls - no. But a small amount here or there, I wouldn't be surprised nor should you.

I'm glad you replaced your lead pipes. Most people haven't and seem to be doing just fine.


Quoting Joanne Wallenstein:
To Moldman:

You say, "A/C is being added to the gym." The PTA requested that the gym be air conditioned but there has been no confirmation of that request. The windows are being covered up and the humidity is 65% in the gym. Just wanted to be clear about what's included in the bond. As for my 1914 house, we replaced the pipes long ago and we don't have mold.
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#16 Nice... 2017-12-12 13:42
With humidity in the 65% range in the Gym, no windows and no A/C is going to be amazing to do PE in there... money well spent ??
What a great proposal we have on our plate..
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