The main reason given by Superintendent Mark Roosevelt for closing the iconic Schenley High School building in 2008 and moving students on an emergency and very expensive basis was that there was pervasive asbestos plaster in the building. Mr. Roosevelt said that the plaster posed a serious risk to students and staff and that renovation would cost approximately $76 million dollars, in large part due to the expense of asbestos related construction and remediation.
However, the school district recently released results of tests conducted in 2009 showing that of hundreds of plaster samples, only two had more than trace amounts of asbestos. According to a July 2012 City Paper report, a former project manager for the district's building consultant states that similar low concentrations of asbestos had been found in routine tests during the years prior to 2008 and that district officials were aware of these low numbers. Nevertheless the Superintendent and his administration continued to report only results of less accurate tests conducted back in 2002 showing higher levels of asbestos and ignored its consultant's recommendation to conduct a different, more precise test. The more precise tests were finally done in 2009, AFTER the vote to close the school, and results were not disclosed to the public until August 2012. This 2009 report indicated that all of the asbestos believed to be in the building could be removed for just over $1 million.
Two individuals who were members of the Board in 2008 confirm that they first learned of these recommendations and findings in 2012. In the words of one of these Board members, "If a School Board Member must constantly verify whether a staff member is telling the truth then no Board of any type can function. The more technical the information or recommendation the more we have to trust the staff." The "truth" means not just statements which are carefully crafted and technically correct but the whole truth with no effort to conceal or mislead.
The appropriate remedy at this time is for the Board to investigate whether information was withheld and to obtain a clear statement as to the extent of asbestos in the building's plaster and a corrected estimate for renovation . The amount spent to move students on an "emergency" basis should also be specified. This information should be made public before any further decisions are made regarding the building.
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