READFIELD — The facilities committee for Regional School Unit 38 chose not to recommend closing Manchester Elementary School on Wednesday after continued concerns about the school’s air quality.

The committee instead favored continuing to follow recommendations of Air Quality Management Services after the latest problem – concern about carbon dioxide levels in a fourth-grade classroom.

The director of the local teachers union called for the school to be closed for the rest of the year last week after a teacher complained of a smell in her classroom.

“I don’t feel there is a need (to close it),” said Superintendent Donna Wolfrom during Wednesday’s meeting, “and I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the teachers and staff.”

The 65-year-old school first came under the scrutiny of parents in January over a possible mold problem. Air quality tests, thorough cleaning, the remediation of the basement, stage area and several classrooms alleviated much of the concern.

The latest trouble began March 29 when a fourth-grade teacher complained of a smell in her classroom. A check of the room yielded no obvious cause, though Wolfrom said a pair of wet boots was found in the corner of the room where the smell was coming from.

The room’s carpet and air quality were tested, and after complaints of headaches by the teacher, the decision was made to also test the room’s carbon dioxide levels. The report from Air Quality Management showed no mold problem in the carpet or classroom in general and that the carbon dioxide levels did not present a safety hazard.

Because of the teacher’s discomfort, however, her students were relocated April 10 to the art room, and Wolfrom said the plan is for them to remain there until the school year ends.

The formal report, which was given to parents April 10, showed carbon dioxide levels well below OSHA standards. But the report recommended the windows be kept open in the affected classroom to promote increased ventilation, and stated a local air-exchange unit could be installed to address any ventilation problem within the classroom.

Wolfrom said the district is looking into buying a unit. Curt Morse, the district’s facilities director, said the remainder of the school’s carbon dioxide levels will be tested April 24 when students return from spring vacation.

“We have the safety of our students and staff as our highest concern,” Wolfrom said last week. “We have asked experts for their advice, and we’re confident that we are following the recommendations of those experts.”

Wolfrom said she hasn’t heard from any parents wanting the school to be closed.

“We would do it if we felt there was a safety or health hazard,” said School Board Chairwoman Terry Watson.

But local teacher’s union director Joan Morin said there is great concern about whether the building is safe. She sent Wolfrom a letter last week asking that the school be closed for the remainder of the year.

“Clearly there is a problem in the school and (nobody) is finding the real problem as to why the building is sick,” Morin said last week. She could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Wolfrom said the district has options if relocating students is deemed necessary. The pre-kindergarten program would move to the bus garage, while the students in kindergarten through grade 2 would move to Readfield Elementary. The remaining students – in grades 3, 4 and 5 – would go to Maranacook Community Middle School.

Instead, the district plans to have the school thoroughly cleaned over the summer and will address any new problems that come up at that time. Board member Gary Carr said the district needs to think about the long-term future and about closing and replacing “these old buildings.”

After mold concerns were raised in January, parents and the district agreed that any student presenting any symptoms, such as headaches or sore throats, should be reported to the school nurse, who then would notify the school’s principal, Janet Delmar, and the district. Wolfrom and Delmar said the nurse hasn’t reported any sick children related to the suspected problem in the fourth-grade classroom.

The superintendent said the major concern was always about the safety of the students and staff, which is why the district immediately went to the experts and have acted on their recommendations.

“We did what we needed to do, and we did it quickly,” Wolfrom said.

Jason Pafundi can be contacted at 621-5663 or at:

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