Officials with the Shawnee Mission School District have said they won’t make a decision until next month on whether to delay an asbestos abatement and demolition project at Trailwood Elementary School.
But that didn’t keep a group of parents from making their case to the district’s board on Monday that going forward with the project now could put their children at risk.
“I know it would be great to have that building gone, but I would like for my kids to not be breathing that dust,” Malinda Sutton, who has two children at Trailwood, said during the public forum portion of the board’s monthly meeting.
Students, teachers and other staff this week moved into the new Trailwood school building, which was built adjacent to the existing school.
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The district currently plans to begin an asbestos abatement in the original building on Jan. 27, followed by tearing down the building to make way for a new playground, a parking lot and a front drive.
Parents are concerned that any dust or other debris that escapes from either the abatement or the demolition could endanger students who will continue to use a nearby recess area and parking lot. They have contacted the district and 280 people have signed an online petition asking the district to delay the abatement and demolition until next summer when Trailwood will be empty.
Asbestos is a fibrous material used in older buildings to make them fireproof. The material has since been linked to mesothelioma cancer and is no longer used. Abatement projects seek to remove the material is ways that prevent it from becoming airborne, when it is at its most dangerous.
In a letter to parents, Trailwood Principal Greg Lawrence said the district plans to hold a meeting on Jan. 10 with representatives of general contractor JE Dunn, the company performing the abatement, officials with the Kansas Department of Health & Environment, and a pediatric environmental hygienist with Children’s Mercy Hospital to gather more information on potential risks and make changes if needed.
On Monday, parents said they believed JE Dunn and the abatement company will likely take all necessary steps to mitigate the risk of contamination to the adjacent school. But they said that any risk of contaminating students and staff with asbestos was too much.
“It’s very concerning where these kids are going to be running and breathing deeply that they’re going to be breathing air that the construction workers will be protected from,” said Liz DiSalvo, a parent of two Trailwood students.
Jarrod Guthrie, who has three children at Trailwood, said he knew the district is concerned delaying the projects could lead to added costs.
“That fee will be miniscule compared to the potential harm that would come to the children and staff should it continue as planned,” Guthrie said.
Several asked that if the abatement and demolition goes forward as planned for the district to at least install air monitoring equipment at the school to warn if hazardous materials are escaping.
“It is the student with the weakest immune system that is our canary in the coal mine,” said parent David Kirsch, who has a third-grader at Trailwood. “We won’t know something is wrong until those students show signs of weakness.”
Board members did not respond to the parents, as they typically don’t during the public forum.
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▪ The Shawnee Mission Education Foundation announced it will donate to the district a $70,000 Anatomage computerized dissection table. The table displays virtual 3-D images of human and animal cadavers that students can manipulate to view and identify specific body systems.
Kimberly Hinkle, the foundation’s executive director, said only three other public schools in the country have one of the tables, which will be placed at the district’s Center for Academic Achievement, currently under construction. It will be available to students beginning next fall, she said.
▪ The board members also voted unanimously to approve one-year extensions to the employment contracts of Superintendent Jim Hinson and Deputy Superintendent Kenneth Southwick.