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Highlands takes steps to clear the air at Grandview

| Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2007

Highlands officials have ordered their masonry contractor to suspend work that created a dust problem at Grandview Elementary School until after classes end.

Acting Superintendent Nick Staresinic said Tuesday morning that school officials took several steps to alleviate dust generated by the grinding of old mortar from between bricks on the building's exterior. The actions came the morning after a school board meeting where a teacher's aide and the parent of a Grandview student complained about the dust creating an unhealthy environment in the building.

Staresinic said the steps were taken after a construction meeting at Grandview that involved himself, board president Chris Salego, architect Enzo Calla, business manager Jon Rupert and representatives of the contractor, the Cost Co.

"An independent air quality testing firm will come in (today) and randomly thereafter take air quality tests throughout the site," Staresinic said. "All the exterior grinding will take place after 3:30 p.m. We are permitted to do that in the contract, so we are ordering the contractor to do that.

"The contractor will cover all exterior outlets. Any way for the dust to get into the building, we want that covered."

In addition, he said the maintenance staff would check the vent filters through which air passes into the building. Any filters showing a trace of the dust will be replaced.

He also said that the firm doing the air testing, which had not yet been hired, also will check for mold in the building. That was another complaint aired at Monday's meeting, of which Staresinic, who came on the job just last week, said he was not aware.

Letters informing parents about the steps taken were sent home with students Tuesday, and Staresinic said the information also was placed on the district's Web site.

"It's certainly a potential respiratory irritant," Guillermo Cole, spokesman for the Allegheny County Health Department, said of the dust. "It can be a real problem for people who are sensitive to it. Even people who don't have dust allergies could be affected by it."

He was not aware of any complaints being made to the health department regarding Grandview but said such complaints are common for renovation projects at schools.

"To me, it seems like they are doing all the right things," Cole said. "These are standard procedures that are taken when you are dealing with complaints about air quality from people in a building."

"I have been in there at least three times and I haven't sensed it," Staresinic said of the dust. "It hasn't bothered me, but then I'm not a barometer for air testing.

"To say that we didn't know there was dust coming in would be wrong, because we did know that. Dust comes with renovations."

However, he said that when an open house was held at Grandview last Thursday, he attended and spoke to a number of teachers and parents but nobody complained that the dust had become a problem.

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