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Moon Area's asbestos removal schedule stirs ire

| Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015, 9:00 p.m.

Moon Area School District's plan to complete asbestos removal at two schools during spring break is rushed and could be a potential health risk to students and staff, some parents said Monday during a sometimes contentious school board meeting.

“Even in the case of a one-family house, that seems like a pretty tall task to undergo in one week,” said Dr. Rob Schwartz, a pediatrician and one of several parents who spoke about the planned asbestos removal.

As part of its $26.2 million elementary capital improvement plan, the school district plans to remove asbestos tiles from Allard and Brooks elementary schools during spring break, which is March 30 to April 3.

On Monday, the school board voted 7-2, with Jerry Testa and Michael Hauser opposed, to approve asking the state Department of Education to give its approval to executing contracts — likely with Professional Service Industries Inc. — to do the removal work.

Board approval is required as part of the education department's Planning and Construction Workbook, or PlanCon, program under which school districts apply for reimbursements for renovation and construction projects.

The board voted, 9-0, to approve having Professional Service Industries, which has corporate headquarters in Oakbroook Terrace, Ill. and a local office in Green Tree, conduct an analysis of asbestos and other hazardous materials in Hyde Elementary School. Hyde will close in June, remediation work would be performed this summer, and the building would reopen in the fall as a learning center with a preschool and high school remedial classes.

Asbestos is the name of a group of minerals with long, thin fibers that once was used widely as insulation, according to the National Institutes of Health. The fibers are so small that they can't be seen; but, if disturbed, they can float in the air, making them easy to inhale.

Breathing in high levels of asbestos over a long period of time can cause internal scarring and inflammation, affect breathing and lead to diseases such as mesothelioma, a rare cancer that affects the lining of the lungs or abdomen.

Moon Area parents say they are concerned with the spring break timetable and their children returning to school in a safe building.

“There's no guarantee that the project will be completed during the suggested time,” parent Shanda Wyatt said.

Professional Service Industries has said the timetable for removing the asbestos tiles in the two schools is reasonable, board President A. Michael Olszewski.

“They are a highly competent and technical specialist that does this all the time. They've researched the size and scope and nature of the jobs, and they're confident not only in the timeframe given but the nature of the job,” he said Wednesday.

Furthermore, the asbestos being removed at Allard and Brooks is in tiles, which is not the traditional asbestos insulation found on pipes or in walls, he said.

The work will not take place throughout the buildings, but in phases in several classrooms which will be sealed off, he said.

School board member Jerry Testa and Superintendent Curt Baker engaged in a heated debate, with Baker criticizing Testa for suggesting that school board members were cutting corners and jeopardizing students' health by pushing through an unreasonable timetable.

“You're trying to force feed a schedule that can't be met,” Testa said.

The timetable debate is irrelevant, school board Vice Chairman Dennis Harbaugh Jr. said, because the Allegheny County Health Department will independently inspect the schools for safety after the work has been completed.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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