The air quality at newly renovated Math Science Technology School 197 is making faculty and students sick and could force the school to temporarily relocate if a solution isn’t found soon.
Superintendent Pamela C. Brown said that was a possibility after listening to stories of disturbing environmental conditions, including sewage backup problems, at Wednesday’s School Board meeting.
“This is the first I’m hearing about some of the health conditions that are being described tonight ... I assure the board that I will have discussions about the possibility of moving the staff and students if it becomes excessive, and we need to make that decision fairly quickly,” Brown said.
Also at the meeting, a proposal advanced by M&T Bank Chairman and CEO Robert G. Wilmers to hire Teach for America recruits was declared dead for this year.
The plan, which he offered to help fund, had the support of Brown, but a board member said there weren’t enough votes for it to pass and meet the deadline set by the AmeriCorps organization.
Christen LaBruna, a science teacher at the technology school, said teachers “connected the dots six or seven weeks ago” and concluded that they were getting sick from environmental conditions.
Michelle Zimmerman, a seventh-grade biology teacher, said more than 10 teachers have suffered symptoms.
“It’s getting to the point of dizziness, nausea, even cognitive issues by the end of the day. We can’t teach without having the windows open. We’re even moving classrooms because sometimes the fumes and the smell are so bad,” Zimmerman said.
Joseph P. Giusana, chief operating officer of the Division of Plant Services, presented a list of actions the facilities department has taken and plans to take to determine what is causing the problem.
“We have done some initial testing. Those tests have not shown any result that in any way indicates that we have a hazardous environment there, although there are conditions that are causing the discomfort that’s been stated,” Giusana said.
He said they were examining the plumbing system and the air-conditioning system, testing individual chemicals and looking into nearby facilities and plants as potential sources.
LP Ciminelli, the school contractor, and an industrial hygienist are also involved, he said.
But LaBruna said the school administration and the facilities department were slow to respond, and still not doing enough.
The teachers received support from developer Carl Palladino, who in using his time at the lectern orally attacked Giusana and other individuals, prompting his removal from the room by board President Mary Ruth Kapsiak.
Meanwhile, the proposal to bring Teach for America recruits to Buffalo had too many unanswered questions and too little time to resolve them, board members Ralph Fernandez and Jason McCarthy said.
Brown agreed more time was needed. “It was a very short time frame for the board. We are definitely going to continue our discussions for possibly next year,” she said.