Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Asbestos issues Q & A

PURE Reform's latest featured topic, "Asbestos Issues Raised at the January 12, 2009 Public Hearing Question and Answer," has now been posted on purereform.com's Featured Topics tab.

Making answers available to public hearing speakers is a real step toward greater public participation and engagement.

On the topic of asbestos, however- it still appears that similar asbestos plaster issues at different schools have been treated differently.


Mark Rauterkus said...

Honest question:

Where do you want this push of an asbestos discussion to go to?

What are the possible outcomes, destinations?

What about the journey and its milestones?

What's in it for citizens, schools, students, taxpayers, administration, etc?

IMHO, some care about this issue, but why should the spectator turn into a participant?

Questioner said...

Excellent question!

To recap the situation:

The public was informed through a consultant RL Kimball's letter in the November 2007 that plaster in the building had "maintained its integrity for approximately 90 years, and then started to fall almost universally across the entire building." The letter describes a plan for "intense monitoring" and recommends that the district develop an emergency plan to reassign students if significant plaster failure rendered the building unuseable. All very alarming, and referring to this letter the district took the position that an $80 million total renovation would be needed to make the Schenley building available. Rather than renovate the building, the school board voted to close the building and take in no new classes for "Schenley High School."

Recent investigation suggests however that plaster issues did not suddenly become a major problem in 2007. Removal of ceiling plaster at Schenley was part of the 2004 Capital Budget ($2.3M). The plan apparently was to handle the plaster in the same way asbestos plaster had been handled at the McKelvy building, where water infiltration had also damaged plaster- by removing the ceilings.

At that point however the stories of the two buildings diverged. McKelvy become the new home for the Miller African Centered Academy in 2006, despite a long history of serious wall plaster issues. Ceilings were not removed at Schenley, and when on two occasions small areas of plaster fell the events were described as "ceiling collapses." RL Kimball issued the letter described above, referring to "universal delamination," despite the fact that expert AGX was at the same time issuing reports that most of the plaster at Schenley was in good condition.

Where this leaves us, then, is with a conclusion that the asbestos plaster danger and scope of essential renovation at Schenley was apparently overstated, and/or that the asbestos danger at McKelvy and other schools with extensive asbestos plaster is being understated.

What we need is a current, independent survey of the plaster and the extent of asbestos plaster danger at the Schenley, McKelvy, Vann, and Woolslair (and possibly Manchester as well).

Possible outcomes are that the Schenley building, at a cost far less than $80M, can be made available for use by the district (the IB program is still searching for a home). Another possible outcome is that more should be done to ensure the safety of students at the asbestos plaster buildings still in use, such as an enhanced plaster inspection and maintenance program. Perhaps emergency plans should be developed in case students at those buildings must be reassigned.

What's in it for citizens, etc. is the availability of a treasured school building; safety of students at affected buildings; and a sense of trust in the district that will depend on whether a consistent, logical and open approach is taken in addressing these issues. These would be ample reasons for the spectator to become a participant.

Mark Rauterkus said...

A current, independent study of plaster at some schools needs to be trusted and accurate -- of course.

That would be welcomed.

Peer review.

A while ago, I mentioned that the city has resources. It is a Breau of Building Inspection. Called BBI.

Perhaps BBI should be called upon to manage a review and study of the schools in question?

BBI might not be perfect for the job now. But, they could hire a person to be the "go-to expert" on these matters and cases.

More faith might be delivered if the issue was pulled from under the PPS umbrella.

When schools are made empty, they become public health concerns anyway. So, it is just a matter of time until the city is involved.

Finally, when school buildings are sold to private owners and developers, BBI needs to show up again to monitor rehab, construction and such.

I wish a mayor or controller or member of city council could step up and do public engagement with BBI in this front.

Questioner said...

Would the Bureau of Building Inspection get involved in a building where there is no present or imminent danger?

Air quality monitoring has never shown a problem at any of these buildings, and falling plaster is a possibility at most old buildings. It seems that the standard the PPS district has set for itself, based on its treatment of Schenley, is higher than a building inspection bureau, dealing with much worse conditions elsewhere, would set. The building inspection bureau would most likely not get involved in seeing that the district applied its own standards consistently.

Mark Rauterkus said...

I would hope that the Bureau of Building Inspection would be ordered to get involved in a building where there is no present or imminent danger. The BBI's marching orders can be delivered by the mayor, I expect.

I dare say that the BBI folks do know of this situation. I've given them calls in the past and asked them to be involved. They told me that it would take someone with more authority to get them to give this their attention.

I called the Mayor's office in the past and left messages to the same end -- but nothing -- of course.

The BBI role is for trust, for starters. For protection of assets. These are all tax bodies. If buildings are being tossed away for suspect reason, we need to know. And, for the long-term health of the city as these buildings could be re-used again in years to come.

Some of the questions are about building inspection and building safety.

Some of the matters are about policy too -- but that is another matter, well beyond BBI.

I think it is a good idea -- other than calling for the FEDs and digging for other types of investigations.

Questioner said...

We can certainly ask the mayor... maybe you and other interested citizens could also make this request.