The Tisbury School will have a comprehensive test to look for lead paint and asbestos in the school on Monday.
In a joint meeting with town selectmen Tuesday, Tisbury School administration and Tisbury School Committee members told a room full of concerned parents, teachers, and residents that a meeting to determine the next steps would be held immediately after results are available. Results on the testing will take one to two weeks.
While there was a general consensus among officials, parents, and teachers that there is lead, asbestos, and mold in the building, Principal John Custer said they needed the facts first before implementing a plan. Depending on the results, Custer said plans could include moving children to other parts of the building, utilizing trailers, using neighboring buildings, churches, and libraries, and even delaying the start of school.
The failed vote to build a new school was very much on the minds of those inside the Katharine Cornell Theater. Tisbury has wrestled with the need for a new school or a renovation for the better part of three years. In April 2018, voters rejected spending $46.6 million on a new school building by 21 votes at the polls. The building project had been approved at a town meeting. This summer, a newly appointed building committee has begun discussions looking at a long-term solution for the school.
Voters spoke at the polls, but problems with the school building, built in 1929 and added onto several times through the years, persist. A recent air quality analysis by the state Department of Public Health (DPH) showed serious deficiencies at the school caused by leaking windows. There are problems with mold, and potentially issues with lead paint and asbestos, according to the report. The DPH report recommended the town do testing for lead paint and asbestos.
Another report on the school’s accessibility also showed significant problems with restrooms, stairs, handrails, and doors that are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The site visit was done on May 6, 2019, and the report is 544 pages. It shows an estimated $1.25 million in repairs that are needed just to bring the school into compliance.
“We had a plan to fix all of this with $13 million coming from the government to help us do it, and it didn’t happen, so now we’re here and we have to go forward and deal with it,” Superintendent Matt D’Andrea said.
Aside from lead and asbestos, D’Andrea said, if mold is found they will clean it, and if there is water leakage they will seal it, but no mold testing would be done.
“The [DPH], when they came, they told us testing for mold is a waste of time,” he said. “There’s mold everywhere, you’re going to get positive results.”
“The concerns are legitimate, but it’s like getting a bad shot in golf. If you think about that bad shot you’re destined to hit another bad shot; all we can do now is go forward,” selectman Jim Roger said.
Several parents, teachers, and residents voiced their concern about the school and asked for more concrete plans on how the school would deal with any potential issues.
Sarah York, a parent of two children who attend the school and a member of the town’s finance committee, pushed officials for a backup plan if work to remediate lead or asbestos extends past the looming first day of school on Sept. 3.
“The health and safety of students and staff is No. 1, and there really isn’t a No. 2,” Custer said. “It will depend quite frankly on the results of the testing … I don’t have a concrete plan, but I have ideas.”
Selectman Jeff Kristal said he assured one teacher who was not at Tuesday’s meeting that her room would be tested because he knows she has peeling paint being swept up every night. D’Andrea said peeling paint being swept up had not been verified.
Parents were concerned, but selectmen and school officials were adamant that test results needed to be received before any plan was put forth.
If remediation is needed, it may take up to a month before it can be done. Once testing is complete and the results are in hand, the town would need to hire a consultant who would give them an estimate on how much remediation would cost. With that number, the town could then call a special town meeting and have voters vote to approve funds for remediation.
“Let’s really look at this. We need a backup plan,” Janet Packer, a school committee member, said.
Emily Solarazza, a parent, said testing was way overdue. “[Teachers] are at risk, my children are at risk, and I am not OK with being remiss as a parent to my own children’s health, and treating the people who I respect so highly with such indecency to get them working conditions that are not fair or healthy. I do not appreciate not knowing what the plan is, and why we’re sitting here two years later with still nothing going on — it’s not OK,” Solarazza said. “We need the cooperation of the selectmen and the town to make this the priority it absolutely is.”