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Springstead High endures roof work, noise and odors

Published Sep. 27, 2005

(ran PC edition of PASCO TIMES)

The district takes steps to improve conditions after complaints of headaches and rashes.

Rested from their time off, the students and staff at Springstead High School returned from spring break two weeks ago to a school that since then has been anything but restful.

Roofers have been prying and pounding incessantly to remove old roofing material. The jarring nature of the work has at times shaken dust and other debris on people. And the new roofing adhesive has filled the air with a strong, gluelike smell.

The noise has been enough to halt lecturing teachers in their tracks. Sophomore Amanda Dick said her math teacher simply gave up trying to speak over the noise during one three-day stretch. The kids were stuck with desk work that involved little oral instruction.

Pounding on the ceiling has been so forceful that classroom televisions have nearly been shaken from their stands.

"This week has been pretty good. But last week the pounding and the drilling _ I kept expecting the guy to come through the ceiling," teacher Marco Feola said.

Outside on the ground around the walls of the building, there is a fine layer of yellow foam, torn-out fragments of the old roof's insulation. It looks like an off-color dusting of snow.

The smell from the adhesive _ not to mention fumes from a machine being used to rip off the old roofing material _ found their way into air ducts. District officials say the smell, though unpleasant, is at safe levels.

But that hasn't stopped students from complaining of headaches and skin rashes. One pregnant teacher was granted her wish to be moved to a portable classroom outside the main building.

The situation has been bad enough that, until earlier this week, a group of teachers was preparing to file a labor grievance relating to the poor working conditions.

That process stopped when school district officials met with the roofing company to devise tactics aimed at minimizing the annoyances caused by the project. Air ducts have been closed. Outside doors, which had been propped open earlier, have been closed. Applications of the malodorous adhesives will be put off until late afternoons, when most people are gone.

"Grievance or no grievance, we are not in the business of making people sick and uncomfortable," said Graydon Howe, the district's director of facilities and maintenance.

If the new measures fail, Howe said, the project might have to be put off until the school year ends in two weeks. Many at Springstead have been wondering why that wasn't done anyway.

The problem, Howe said, is there's a good chance that, barring extraordinary efforts and considerable overtime expense, putting off the project likely would mean the roofing work would not be finished before school resumes again in August.

Already, work was delayed in February because students were taking achievement tests. Still, Howe said he knows there's a limit to what people can take.

"If it's not acceptable to responsible people _ and by that I mean the principal and her staff _ then we are just going to pull the plug," Howe said.

So far, Springstead principal Dot Dodge and teachers union officials have been pleased with the district's response. And they hope the worst is over. Work began on an end of the main classroom building that covers most of the academic classrooms. Now, the workers are moving into sections that cover administrative areas, the band room and cafeteria.

Some people say they are getting used to the smells, noise and occasional dust shower.

"I must be used to it because I don't smell it," senior Rick Colon said. "It's not really unbearable. It's annoying."

And though they may complain, few people who have spent time at Springstead argue that the roof repairs are unnecessary. Roof leaks have been so common they are a running joke.

Ron Belcher, the only faculty member who was there when the school opened in the 1970s, has two leaks in his classroom now.

Assistant principal Tim Urban said the amount of water coming in at some spots during storms is a marvel to behold.

"There are some places where, if you had a bar of soap, you could take a shower from the water," he said.