New windows likely for asbestos-plagued Scarborough school

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SCARBOROUGH — The Town Council is expected to hold a special meeting next week to appropriate funds for 28 new windows at the Wentworth Intermediate School.

The windows will replace one set of windows per classroom that are being kept closed due to concerns about asbestos.

The council heard from School Board Chairman Brian Dell’Olio, Facilities Director Todd Jepson and Principal Ann Mayre Dexter about concerns for the safety and learning environment for teachers and students at the school during Wednesday evening’s Council meeting.

Jepson explained that during the installation of 225 storm windows this summer, asbestos was discovered in the glazing on the existing windows. As a result, the administration decided to keep all windows closed to prevent asbestos particles from entering classrooms.

The strategy became an issue when temperatures rose into the 90s for several days early in the school year. 

“I’m a parent of a Wentworth student,” Councilor Jessica Holbrook said, “and I’m disgusted that school was not cancelled on those 90-degree days.”

Holbrook added that in the future she would like to see proposals for repairs of the school buildings over proposals for laptop computers, referring to the School Board’s request last spring for $668,000 in capital improvement funds to purchase computers for every high school student, a request the council denied.

Jepson also addressed concern about mold and radon discovered this spring in utility tunnels beneath the school, assuring the councilors that the levels in the classroom have tested in normal ranges. 

“The state does recommend that we replace the windows as a whole, or abate the glazing so we can get fresh air into those rooms,” Jepson said, referring to a recent inspection by the state Bureau of General Services.

He estimated replacing only one set of windows per classroom would cost approximately $150,000, or just over $5,300 per window.

After the meeting, Jepson said the price includes removal of the existing windows, which must be done by a licensed professional because of the asbestos, and air quality testing of the classrooms. In addition, the new windows are large and must be custom-built, he said.

Dexter said students and teachers were feeling sick from the lack of fresh air and that students did not seem as focused as they usually are this time of year.

“Employees are going home with headaches. I find this to be a daily occurrence,” she said, adding that the air quality has affected a number of staff members, not just one or two. 

“Tests show it’s safe and I believe it is,” Dexter said, “but the air has become stifling and stagnant.”

The School Board was expected to vote on a bid to replace the 28 windows on Thursday. Councilors agreed they would hold a special meeting as quickly as possible to vote on funding the project. 

Town Manager Tom Hall said after the meeting that the funding could come from cuts in the existing town and/or school operating budgets, undesignated fund balance, or be reallocated from a previously approved capital improvement project.

“Depending on the route taken for financing, it may require a budget amendment, which requires two readings,” Hall said, adding that he would be working closely with the school on these options in the coming days.

Route 1 zoning change

The council also heard from Harvey Rosenfeld, Scarborough Economic Development Corp. executive director, about the organization’s request to change zoning of a six-acre parcel that’s for sale on Route 1 across from the Maine Medical Center campus.

The land is owned by the Maine Department of Transportation and is in the Residential 2 zone. Rosenfeld recommended rezoning the area to a BO-R zone, which would encourage bio-medical and technology development.

“We felt we should be proactive so we’re ready when a quality developer comes in,” Rosenfeld said, adding that several developers have already expressed interest in the property.

Several councilors were concerned about the residential neighborhood behind the property.

“This is a huge jump from R2 to BO-R in a fairly quiet neighborhood,” Councilor Karen D’Andrea said. “We need to take into account that whole neighborhood.”

Councilor Ronald Ahlquist suggested the Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee review the change concurrently with the Planning Board. 

The first reading of the zoning change was passed 5-1, with D’Andrea opposed. The change will now go to the Planning Board for a review and public hearing, as well as to CPIC for review and recommendation.

In other business, the council approved 5-1, with D’Andrea opposed, a first reading of a proposed Secondhand Dealer Ordinance, which would regulate any business, including pawn shops and antique dealers, that purchases personal items with intent to resell those items, and require those businesses to obtain a license to operate.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net

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