Tisbury School flunks air quality assessment

Building’s flaws pointed out in detailed report by DPH.

There will be a delay to the start of school for Tisbury School students following positive lead testing.

An air quality evaluation of Tisbury School by the state Department of Public Health (DPH) shows the aging building lacks proper ventilation that could lead to respiratory problems, has extensive water leaks that could cause mold, and there is flaking paint that could be lead-based, given the age of the building.

The evaluation comes as the town and school committee have established a building committee to determine how to renovate and add onto the building after the town rejected a $46 million new school at the same Spring Street location.

State health officials visited the school in April, and issued the report this month. The school was built in 1929, and has been added onto several times since.

“The conditions related to [indoor air quality] problems at the [Tisbury School] raise a number of significant issues. At this point, the school has had its mechanical HVAC systems rendered incapable of providing fresh air and exhaust ventilation,” the report states. “This condition can allow for normally occurring indoor air pollutants to build up to cause symptoms. Without properly [functioning] mechanical ventilation, sources of odors and chemical vapors can then be trapped inside the building. The [Tisbury School] also has a number of water-penetration issues, which can moisten materials that can then become mold-colonized.”

Vents are blocked, transoms installed as part of the ventilation system are closed, and the building’s windows, roof, and envelope allow water to seep in — all leading to poor ventilation and air quality, according to the report. Carpeting in the school is old and frayed, which could also result in respiratory issues, the report states.

The report makes nearly three dozen short-term and long-term recommendations, from opening windows, when appropriate, to hiring an air-quality engineer to guide necessary repairs.

“Some of these conditions can be remedied by actions of building occupants,” the report concludes. “Other remediation efforts will require alteration to the building structure and equipment.”

John Custer, the school’s principal, could not be immediately reached for comment. 

A parent, who asked not to be identified, called the report “gross.”

Many of the conditions reported by the DPH were pointed out during a tour of the building last year, and then in an independent air quality evaluation that was done by the teachers’ union.

“None of this is a surprise,” selectman Jim Rogers, who is a member of a revamped school building committee, told The Times. The building committee is focused on bringing recommendations to the town for renovations and addition to the building, Rogers said. The new committee began meeting Wednesday, and will meet the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month at the Tisbury Emergency Services Facility at 5 pm, he said.

In an email to The Times, Rachel Orr, the building committee chair, wrote, “The school building committee voted Wednesday night to add the report to the background documents provided to prospective owner’s project managers and architects.”

The DPH report doesn’t actually conclude that there is lead paint in the school, but warns that both lead paint and asbestos could be lurking in the 90-year-old building. 

“Of note was the presence of peeling paint in a number of locations (Picture 10, Table 1). [Indoor air quality] staff could not identify whether the paint may contain lead. Given age of the [Tisbury School], it is possible that classroom paint contains lead and would require remediation in a manner consistent with Massachusetts lead paint laws and regulations,” the report states. “The 1929 building was also built at a time when asbestos was used to insulate heat pipe. The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) requires that all asbestos -containing materials be identified and reassessed every three years by a licensed asbestos inspector. If the asbestos-containing materials are in a form that can cause exposure (called friable), then it must be remediated in a manner consistent with federal and Massachusetts asbestos laws and regulation.”

A separate report done on what’s known as the Little White House, the modular units, also shows deficiencies. At the time of the visit, the modular unit’s ventilation system was deactivated, and the lack of gutters and downspouts added to problems with moisture.

“One room had a distinct mold odor upon entry,” the report states. “The source of this odor was the floor, which was covered with wall-to-wall carpeting. Carpeting that is chronically moistened through either water leaks or exposure to high humidity may become colonized with mold.”

The report raises concerns about eye, nose, throat, and respiratory irritation that can be caused by volatile organic compounds.

The report recommends operating the ventilation system continuously, repairing the building’s skirting, and adding downspouts and gutters, among other ideas.


  1. Sounds like no maintenance was done. Same thing will happen with a new school, new fields, etc. There are public schools way older than the Tisbury School that are still operating without issues. They have school administrations that make sure the maintenance gets done.

    • Despite your feelings of what it “sounds like,” the fact is that appropriate maintenance was conducted on the school within budgetary confinements. The town’s budget, including the school, is a matter of public record and can be freely accessed. If you took the time to read it, you would see that the maintenance budget is regularly fully utilized.

  2. pretty bad. I wonder if they have soap in the bathrooms?
    Could someone who voted against the new school please comment here and tell us if you still think that was a good idea.

  3. To all of the people who voted against the school GO TO HELL! Asbestos? lead? Mold? Radon? Carbon dioxide? Sickening!

  4. This is so disgusting! If my kid was a student there I would be taking him to be tested for all of these lovely cancer causing agents! People who weren’t for the new school….If u even have children in that school, how are you feeling about sending them back??!!

  5. This doesn’t surprise me. I have two grandchildren who attend this school. The teachers are wonderful but I worry about our children attending this school. How long will we have to wait for something to be done? This isn’t right.

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