SHAFTSBURY >> Shaftsbury Elementary School will be installing new air vents after tests showed levels of carbon dioxide above recommended limits.
Principal Jeff Johnson said that Jim Secor, of MSK Engineering and Design, the contractor that is overseeing the project, recommended testing the air vents at the school to see if they would need to be upgraded or replaced as part of the roof replacement project that the school was already doing this summer. In April, two CO2 detectors were installed in the school by Secor.
According to email correspondence between Marcus Jones of Efficiency Vermont, who analyzed the results of the test, Secor, and Johnson, elevated levels of CO2 were detected. Jones said that the data showed a clear need to address ventilation at the school, writing, "The meters were both maxed out at 2,500 (parts per million), which is well above the normal control level of 1,000-1,200 ppm."
Graphs included in the email showed that the baseline level of CO2 in the school was about 700 ppm, but the chart spiked during the school day to levels as high as 2,500. That level was only reached six times during the two weeks of testing, three on each detector, although the average concentration during school days appears to be between 1,500-2,000.
At a special meeting of the Shaftsbury School Board on May 25, which was scheduled to award a bid for the roof project, the board also addressed the ventilation issue, authorizing Secor to get a quote for how much replacing the ventilation system would cost. According to board chairman Fran Kinney, the quote could be ready to be presented as soon as the board's regular June meeting next Wednesday. He fully expects the new system to be installed and operational by the start of the school year.
However, one parent feels the board and the administration acted inappropriately both in not notifying parents immediately about the elevated levels, and in holding the discussion at an untelevised special meeting, for which it was not listed on the agenda. "On April 28, the administration of the Shaftsbury Elementary School received a report from Efficiency Vermont serving as notification that there were toxic levels of carbon dioxide present in the school," wrote Billy Obenauer in a letter to the Banner, "Efficiency Vermont's report was quietly addressed at an untelevised special meeting of the Shaftsbury School Board on May 25. The only item on the agenda for this meeting was 'paving/roof bid,' yet somehow the board and administration felt that this was the appropriate time to discuss this report."
"So here we are again, Shaftsbury," wrote Obenauer, "Our school has information about a potential danger to our children and rather than partner with us to identify the best way to keep our kids safe, it has chosen to shield us from the information. This story sounds very similar to the story that divided our community less than a month ago. The difference here is that all of our children have been directly exposed to this risk and that exposure has continued without our knowledge."
"CO2 is not toxic," said Jones in an interview with the Banner Friday, "Kids tend to be sleepier (when levels are elevated), but they are not in danger." He said he was aware of no state or federal regulations on CO2 levels in schools. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration sets the safe limit for CO2 levels over a 40-hour work week at 5,000 ppm.
Johnson said that as soon as he received the report, he contacted the Michelle Reddinger at the Vermont Department of Health, who advised him that the students were not in any danger, but said that the problem would need to be addressed. Reddinger did not response to a request for comment before deadline.
Obenauer also wrote, "What is even more alarming is the fact that the meeting's recorder was instructed not to include any evidence of the school's toxic carbon dioxide levels in the meeting minutes."
Three of the five board members said on Friday that no such directive was given.
"There was never anybody that covered something up," said Kinney, "There'd be no reason to do that. That would not have been a smart thing to do, it was a public meeting." Board members Ed Molloy and Holly Bahan said that the board had given no such directive, but said that Secor had made a comment along those lines. Secor is not an employee of the supervisory union. Jones said that to his knowledge, the entire process has been done in the public eye, and that there isn't anything to cover up. He said Secor continues to keep him in the loop regarding the project.
The meeting minutes, which are a draft and have not yet been approved, include the discussion, and read, "In response to comments from Secor, members engaged in a brief discussion about improving ventilation in the same area where the roof is being replaced ... Secor agreed to design a ventilation system for the north wing and to present a cost estimate for doing so before beginning the project."
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.