State agency tests air quality at Wentworth School

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SCARBOROUGH — A state agency completed air quality tests of classrooms, storage rooms, offices and utility tunnels in the Wentworth Intermediate School earlier this week and will likely not recommend further mold testing in the aging building.

The testing comes after a recent discovery of asbestos in the school’s windows led to further discussion of mold and radon levels in the school.

This week, parents and guardians of children attending Wentworth Intermediate School received a letter from Principal Anne-Mayre Dexter, explaining that the Bureau of General Services conducted Phase I testing of carbon dioxide, monoxide, temperature and humidity levels in all wings of the school.

In addition to the BGS testing, Northeast Test Consultants ran similar tests and found that, on the warmest day in the test period, the temperatures in one of the classrooms exceeded 84 degrees and humidity levels reached a high of 65 percent in another classroom just before the school opened for the day.

The summary of findings in the NTC report states that the levels of carbon dioxide “should not pose any increased health risk to normally dispositioned occupants,” however warns that those with compromised lung function could be adversely affected by the levels, which tested above the American National Standards Institute standards in some classrooms.

Elevated levels of carbon dioxide can cause dizziness and headaches.

Official Phase I testing was done after the superintendent requested it from the state Bureau of General Services Division of Safety and Environmental Services. Engineering Tech Larry Mare, who performed the air quality and visual testing, said he found high levels of carbon dioxide in the portable classrooms attached to the main Wentworth building.

Mare said better ventilation would solve these issues.

He also did a cursory examination of the building for mold issues, which would be tested if a Phase II test was ordered by the superintendent.

Mare said he would not be recommending the school continue on to Phase II.

“It’s a difficult call,” he said. “I have to have substantial evidence that we have cause for Phase II.”

Mare said the Wentworth School was cleaner than many of the other schools he has tested.

District Facilities Manager Todd Jepson said he had not yet received Mare’s recommendation, but that he was hoping that after reviewing the past test results from Northeast Test Consultants that found high levels of mold in the utility tunnels, that the state would recommend a Phase II building-wide test.

Jepson said the cost of testing the entire school for mold and other contaminants was not something the district could afford right now.

“If we did (school-wide testing) every time someone complained, we would do it all the time,” Jepson said. “One super-sensitive person can’t dictate school-wide testing. It’s just not practical from a financial standpoint.”

While Phase I testing may address some of the concerns expressed by parents during a public meeting two weeks ago, others are saying it does not go far enough.

“This makes them look like they’re wonderful, like they’re doing something,” said Aymie Hardesty, a parent of two children at Wentworth School and a candidate for the School Board. “They’re not doing the right things, though.”

Hardesty has been pressing the school administration to do more thorough testing of the levels of mold and the toxic gas, radon, in all of the classrooms, in the space above the classrooms, and in the offices and hallways of the school.

“The only testing they’ve ever done is when someone complained,” she said.

Northeast Test Consultants have tested levels of mold, bacteria and radon in several classrooms, offices and in the utility tunnels beneath the school, but a complete test of the whole school has never been done.

Better ventilation is a consistent recommendation by all the experts, however, for the time being, teachers must keep their windows closed due to the discovery of asbestos in the windows.

Jepson said he is currently sending a cost estimate for replacing two windows per classroom to the superintendent and school board for consideration. He would not release the estimates until they had been reviewed by the administration.

Assistant Superintendent Jo Anne Sizemore said the district has begun the process of putting together a building facilities committee, which will make recommendations to the school board on whether or not the building should be replaced.

Sizemore said the district was doing everything it could to get as much expert information as possible.

“We’re dealing with professionals who are experts in this. We want to get as much done as we can,” she said.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or