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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 1, 2010

School closed as a precaution
Tests show air quality at Westmere not affected

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Summer vacation started a day early for students at Westmere Elementary School.

The school was shut on June 24 — the last day of scheduled classes — because contractors working in the building the night before had unexpectedly come across asbestos.

Tests the following day showed that none had escaped.

“We wanted to err on the side of caution,” said Neil Sanders, the district’s assistant superintendent for business.

Inhaling asbestos fibers can cause serious illnesses, including lung cancer.

At about 8:30 last Wednesday evening, workers with WJV Mechanical were removing an old kitchen hood, which Sanders said was part of the original school cafeteria, more than a half-century old. The space is now used as a custodial storage area.

The workers had no way of knowing asbestos was involved until they started removing the hood, Sanders said. “Some asbestos was chipped away in a couple of spots,” he said. A door had been open to the school gym, which they immediately closed.

Sanders arrived on the scene along with someone from Sano-Rubin, the company overseeing the district’s $27 million of renovation and expansion projects; Clifford Nooney, the district’s supervisor of building and grounds; and CT Male, an engineering firm with expertise in air-testing.

“CT Male knows the laws and regulations,” said Sanders. “When you’re dealing with asbestos, it’s important to get the right information.”

The group that gathered at Westmere Elementary the night of June 23 didn’t think any asbestos had escaped, but, said Sanders, “We decided not to take any chances.”

On June 24, the area was tested. A permissible level of asbestos, said Sanders, is 70 structures; Westmere Elementary had zero.

Students and staff were allowed in the building on Friday and Saturday to pick up belongings and say farewells. The building was closed to the public after that because construction work for the summer began this week.

The State Education Department allows schools to close for emergencies without having to make up the day, said Sanders, explaining how costly it would be to bring staff and buses back for the make-up day.

The district will request a variance, Sanders said, so that state aid will not be affected.

“We did everything according to the requirements of the law,” he concluded.

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