LENOX — Lenox Memorial Middle and High School returned to fully remote learning Tuesday, because of damage from two recent windstorms.
Interim Superintendent William Cameron reported that chemical debris falling from or through the drop ceiling in some classrooms and offices, as well as part of the cafeteria, in the oldest part of the building, apparently contained asbestos.
Work to remove the material and repair the damage will require the school to remain fully remote until further notice, Cameron said in a message to the community. He cited the safety of staff and students for the decision to begin the work a day earlier than anticipated.
Sunday night’s high winds caused the material to be dispersed to additional locations in the school, requiring additional work, the superintendent explained.
“It remains our hope that we will be back to school in person on Tuesday, March 23,” he stated. “This is, however, an aspiration at the moment, not a prediction.”
In his message distributed Monday night, Cameron voiced “hope that advancing the date when contractors who’ll perform the remedial work and determine the safety of our resuming in-person instruction can get started will gain us a day toward their completing that work, allowing us to resume in-person instruction.”
The material containing asbestos was fire-retardant substance sprayed on a structural steel universal beam, also known as an I-beam, he pointed out, a common practice during the 1960s, when the school was built.
“This was the first confirmation for me that asbestos was likely an issue throughout the oldest part of the school,” Cameron said.
But, he pointed out, air-quality testing done during and after the initial cleanup two weeks ago showed that the fiber readings in the areas where the debris was found were many times lower than the federal threshold for workplace safety.
Although the debris was not airborne even when it was disturbed during the cleanup, Cameron said, the decision was made to seal the structural gaps that had allowed the fire retardant installed over a half-century ago to be dispersed. He emphasized that the cleanup effort is precautionary.
“We have no evidence that the particulate matter found after the windstorm would have posed a health risk to anyone,” he said. “Nevertheless, we have decided to err on the side of caution to eliminate immediately the need for further piecemeal solutions, to eliminate the fire retardant material from LMMHS and to close the building’s air gaps that exacerbated the problem.
“It is regrettable that you and we must now deal with one more complication in what has already been a complicated and stressful school year for everyone,” Cameron told the school community.