Asbestos management discussed at school board meeting, trustees adopt proposed budget

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Regina McLean, president of the Port Washington Teachers Association, asks Brendan Broderick, owner of JC Broderick about the district's asbestos management plan. (Photo by Jessica Parks)

The owner of JC Broderick & Associates, the Port Washington school district’s environmental consultants, said Tuesday that while tests on white debris found in Schreiber High School have not found asbestos, he is unsure of the source of the material.

Brendan Broderick, after a presentation on asbestos, fielded questions about Schreiber High School’s asbestos management plan at a Board of Education meeting.

The Port Washington Board of Education also adopted a proposed budget of $160.5 million, which includes a tax increase of 2.88 percent.

Recently, concerns have been raised about exposed white debris in three ground floor classrooms at the high school. One remains closed.

Regina McLean, president of the Port Washington Teachers Association and a teacher in the district, said white debris is falling in some classrooms and asked Broderick to clarify the composition of the ceilings in the affected classrooms.

“If you are talking about the lower level,” Broderick said, “they are identified in the management plan as being asbestos containing.”

McLean then asked Broderick if he could say the white debris is coming from the ceiling in those rooms.

Broderick said the ceiling materials are not classified as significantly damaged or damaged because inspectors don’t see an area of damage that exceeds 3 feet.

Broderick said that if a material is not damaged and releasing hazardous amounts of asbestos fibers into the air, then it is safer to keep the material in its place rather than remove it.

He said that because inspectors did not classify the material as damaged, there is not a meaningful amount of asbestos being released in those rooms.

He said his team doesn’t know where the debris, which he called dust, is coming from. To err on the side of caution, Broderick said, the company conducted samples of the dust to see if it contained asbestos.

Of all the times his company responded to this situation, only twice was there enough dust to be tested and in both instances, the material came back as non-asbestos containing, Broderick said.

McLean said she recalled that the material was identified as calcium carbonate.

Broderick said none of the air tests identified a hazardous exposure to asbestos.

Asked by McLean, Broderick confirmed that a plan to encapsulate the building material in various classrooms throughout the school is expected to stop the debris from falling. The material to be used in the encapsulation has yet to be determined, according to Broderick.

He said encapsulation is a method where the material is basically covered to fortify it and ideally strengthen the material.   

He said he does have concerns over the general age of the building materials in the school and said that he suggests putting in place a plan to begin abating the materials as they age.

Broderick said encapsulation can be used as a temporary method to give the material a few more years.

JC Broderick doesnot do the actual abatement or testing. It contracts the work out. In the case of Schreiber’s recent abatements, the district contracted with Branch Mechanical.

Joy Grasso-Krebs, first vice president of the Port Washington Teachers Association, district health and safety chair and chemistry teacher at Schreiber, said the Department of Labor representative described Branch’s work as sloppy.

Broderick responded that he is not going to try to defend the work of any contractor, but due to guidelines set because of the seriousness of asbestos, his company cannot be the same company that conducts the repairs or removals. He said he believes every contractor needs oversight, not just Branch.

“When it comes to sloppy, I think the definition is the finished product of how it looks,” he said. The intention was to wrap lagging around the materials to make it stronger, which he said does the job but is not attractive in a public space.

He said another limitation is that there is only a short time for the repairs to be completed while the building is unoccupied.

Board President Karen Sloan said that the Department of Labor inspector did reach out to the board and say that despite the work looking sloppy, there weren’t any violations on his inspection.

Meghan Harding, Port Washington Teachers Association’s health and safety representative at Schreiber, asked whether it was possible that the prescribed ceiling encapsulation would be too heavy for the asbestos ceiling to absorb.

Broderick responded that it is a possibility, not that encapsulation is not popular but most people opt for removal. However, in this case, contractors do not have the time to conduct removals in multiple classrooms.

He said when an encapsulate is added to a material, the extra weight can pull on it and cause it to separate.

Broderick said if inspectors observe that a separation of the building material is occurring, he would recommend removal.

Harding said she had a meeting on Jan. 17 with a representative from JC Broderick who told her that the ceilings would crumble if they were encapsulated.

She said there were 22 abatements in 12 classrooms at the school over February break.

She said in the ground floor classrooms an encapsulation method has already been used and white debris continues to fall.

Broderick said that in those spaces, that was the lagging of the pipe insulation and not the encapsulation of the ceilings.

In Room 10, black tape was used on some of the damaged pipe insulations to hold the asbestos wrap in place, she said.

“Is that a typical technique that is used because that is the only one it was used in out of 22 abatements,” Harding said.

Broderick said at the end of the day the contractors ran out of material and took it upon themselves to use the black tape. He said it is not typical but there is no harm in it.

Sloan said that James Ristano, Port Washington School District’s facilities director, is to address the black tape and have it changed.

Chris Murphy, a longtime teacher at Schreiber, told the board that teachers are willing to be flexible to help in making the school safer, such as switching classrooms for a semester if needed.

Sloan said that the board is committed to students and staff safety, but is bound by regulations and financial limitations.

“We are trying to embark on a proactive plan going forward, but it is going to take years,” she said. “Everyone is going to have to try to understand that.”

She said if a situation becomes dangerous, it will be rectified as speedily and efficiently as possible.

In regard to the budget, the board announced an additional $400,000 in school aid that has been allocated to the district from the state, which has been used to close a gap between revenues and spending that has been of concern to the district since the beginning of budget discussions.

The proposed budget reflects a 2.96 percent increase from the current budget and has not been adjusted since its last meeting due to the additional school aid.

Board member Larry Greenstein said the recent $400,000 increase resulted in the district having $1 million more in state aid than it was provided last year.

He said it is less than the district deserves but more than the board was expecting.

Mary Callahan, the district’s assistant superintendent of business, presented a slide that compared Port Washington school district’s spending per pupil in the 2017-18 school year with 20 other districts in the area.

At $27,219 per student, Port Washington’s cost per pupil is the lowest in the area. Locust Valley was recorded as the highest, at $40,435 per student.

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