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School Officials Await Results of PCB Testing at Estabrook

Results are expected on Friday, and decisions about the school reopening on Monday will follow.

During and after last week's meeting about the polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) levels in the air at a slew of questions emerged on what officials had in mind for a "Plan B" if ventilating the school and further remediation work did not lower the PCB levels.

At last night's School Committee meeting, held at Cary Hall and attended by about 100 people, Superintendent Paul Ash, the committee and other school officials gave an update on work done at the school to remedy the higher-than-recommended PCB levels, and talked about the options being developed for schooling Estabrook students if the school is deemed unsafe. Test results coming back on Friday will steer the decision,  he said.

"What's Plan B?" Ash said. "If the numbers come in on Friday… if we need a location other than Estabrook, what are the options?"

While officials have begun to look into potential "Plan Bs," Ash said it's difficult to know what kind of situation to plan for – from needing little action if the school is deemed safe, to students having to be educated elsewhere – in other schools, commercial buildings or to-be-determined locations.

"We keep looking at what are the available spaces," Ash said. "The way we approach it will expand and contract based on (Friday's) data…. These things are very complicated and hard to do."

Ash deferred many of the specific questions about the school alternatives, saying cost analyses and logistics would follow finding out whether a short- or long-term plan is needed for the school.

Staring last Thursday, Sept. 2, Estabook has been closed while the school was ventilated for 60 hours, materials were sampled and removal of exterior window caulking, a source of PCBs, was further removed from window frames. The surrounding brick was also encapsulated.

Workers also cleaned and tested interior surfaces, and looked for other sources of PCBs. Results from the air and materials tests are expected to come in Thursday or Friday this week.

A site-specific risk assessment is also being conducted this week by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials. The EPA's guidance threshold for PCB exposure in the air is 300 ng/m3 for children in grades one to five, and 100 ng/m3 for kindergartners. The risk assessment will take into consideration specific characteristics of the Estabrook environment to better target what PCB levels should be deemed safe at the school.

The decision was made to keep students out of the school building pending the test results, however grade one to five classes are taking fieldtrips associated with their curriculum – to Drumlin Farms in Lincoln, the Ecotarium in Worcester and the Museum of Science in Boston – said Principal Sandra Trach. Kindergartners will be in class at the Public Schools' Central Office.

Trach said she has tremendous faith in the plan allowing students to continue learning while not being in the school building.

"I know I'm looking forward to it, the children are looking forward to it," she said. "Good things to come this week."

Ash said he is putting together a Superintendent's Advisory Committee, made up of two teachers, environmental consulting officials, Trach, Director of Facilities Pat Goddard and several parents. Last night, Ash suggested upping parent representation on the committee from two parents to five, at the request of Estabrook PTA President Betsy Sarles.

Ash outlined four possible scenarios that could emerge once test results are back later this week.

 

  • PCB levels are below EPA guidelines, students re-enter Estabrook Monday, Sept. 13. Levels continue to be monitored.
  • PCB levels are above EPA guidelines, and a risk assessment shows levels are below long-term guidelines specific to Estabrook. Superintendent's Advisory Committee considers students re-entering Monday, Sept. 13. Levels continue to be monitored.
  • PCB levels are above EPA guidelines, and a risk assessment shows levels are below short-term guidelines specific to Estabrook. Superintendent's Advisory Committee considers students re-entering Estabrook Monday, Sept. 13, while plans are developed for students to relocate to a different building.
  • PCB levels are above EPA guidelines, and a risk assessment shows levels are above guidelines specific to Estabrook. Superintendent's Advisory Committee considers closing school for one week and relocating students to another building. Further investigation of PCB source.

 

Ash said space at other schools has already begun to be evaluated as potential places for Estabrook classes and grades to take place. Classrooms have been identified as potentially available at Bowman, Bridge, Fiske, Harrington, Hastings, Clarke, Diamond and at the Lexington High School field house.

A pro-con list has also been creating, outlining the impacts on both Estabrook students and those at the other schools.

Members of the School Committee thanked school officials, Estabrook staff and parents for the hours of work put into dealing with the PCB situation. They also decided to have member Alessandro Alessandrini serve as a liason to the Superintendent's Advisory Committee.

"It's a true emergency and we're dealing with it the best we can," said member Margaret Coppe.

The Lexington Public Schools' health and safety website is housing many documents in relation to the PCB situation at Estabrook, including the chronology of events, school plan for this week, information on PCBs, frequently asked questions and more.

Decisions made Friday about Estabrook being open on Monday will also be posted on the website. 

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