Some windows at Scarborough’s Wentworth Intermediate School will have to remain shut until school officials are able to implement a potentially costly solution for asbestos discovered during a storm window project this summer.

The discovery of asbestos is the latest air quality concern to be raised in the school community.

Window glazing that contained asbestos was discovered on sills while storm windows were installed in the school’s north wing. Testing by a consultant determined that the affected rooms had safe levels of airborne asbestos, based on government standards.

The highest level was 15.2 structures per square millimeter, compared with the government threshold of 70 structures per square millimeter, according to school officials.

While the tests indicate the 26 rooms in the wing are safe, school officials say they are requiring the windows to stay closed to prevent loosening any more glazing. For now, they say, ventilators, fans and closed drapes will be used to circulate air and control the temperature.

The district is determining how much it will cost to resolve the window situation, but Superintendent David Doyle said the preliminary estimate to replace some of the sections in each room is $125,000. That is not an amount the district has readily available, so school officials may have to ask the Town Council to borrow money, he said.

School officials expect to meet next week to talk about possible solutions. They hope to present options and price estimates to the Board of Education early next month. The district will add a section to its website to keep parents updated on the project and will collect contact information from those offering expertise and other support.

Doyle said age accounts for many of the problems with the school, which was built in 1963 and had an addition constructed 12 years later. Voters in 2006 rejected a $38.3 million borrowing plan to replace Wentworth, along with a $16.5 million proposal to renovate the town’s middle school. A couple of years ago, the Board of Education considered putting the proposals before voters again, but decided against it due to the economic climate. A building committee is to present a revised plan in April.

Asbestos is just one of the topics of concern for Aymie Hardesty, a parent who is running for the Board of Education. She started looking into air quality last winter, after her daughter noted that she was not out sick as often after leaving Wentworth.

The problems, Hardesty said, are bigger than storm windows and asbestos. But the emergence of that issue — a forum about it this week drew about 100 people — is helping parents learn about other air quality problems at the school, she said.

“Finally something has happened to let parents know what else is happening in the school,” she said.

One parent, Lisa Donahue, said she left the meeting with greater concerns about all the school’s building problems. She’s convinced that a new school is needed and said she would work to convince her fellow residents.

“It needs to be rebuilt,” she said. “I will go door to door. I will do whatever I can.”

Doyle said that a “sick” building should lead to higher absentee rates, but that Wentworth has had better attendance rates than the district as a whole.

In the utility tunnels below the school, stagnant water is present and radon levels are unhealthy, but the tunnels have been sealed off and the rooms that provide access to them through hatches in the floor are not used, Doyle said. Cleaning of the tunnels — a $25,000 job — is under way and is scheduled to be completed next month.

The district has also taken proactive measures, like deep cleaning and applying a mold inhibitor to the carpeting, because of speculation about mold, Doyle said.

The Scarborough Education Association filed a mold-related grievance on behalf of some of the Wentworth staff last winter, according to Krystal Ash-Cuthbert, the union’s vice president. Some staff members have reported severe respiratory problems, including multiple diagnoses of bronchitis, after working in certain areas of Wentworth, she said.

Ash-Cuthbert said the grievance was put on hold when the association learned that the facilities manager was working to improve the space, she said.

“If the district continues to address these issues, then that’s what we want. Ultimately we want a healthy school. We want the kids here to be healthy and the staff as well,” she said.

 

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: [email protected]