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Response to FOIL Request Reveals Years of Water Woes at Greenacres

moistureThough we were not able to get much of what we asked for in our July 2017 FOIL request to the Scarsdale School District, we did receive a 100-page PDF documenting repairs to Greenacres Elementary School going back to 2001. However 46 of the 100 pages were an air quality report from 2015 and a lead report from 2016 that are already posted on the district website.

The records we did receive show that the school was damp and often had water seepage and damage. There are work orders for waterproofing and mold remediation as well as incidents of water infiltration, leaks, foundation water and roof problems throughout the years. It appears that leaks come from the buildings' interior courtyard, from groundwater and from the roof.

The response includes several complaints from teachers who state that they have symptoms from working in the building including scratchy throats, runny eyes, fluid in their ears and more. You can see their statements below but it's evident that a number of the teachers have concerns about the building environment and the health of the faculty.

Interestingly though the district said there was no mold in the school this year (2017), in May 2017 a teacher reported visible mold in "dark spots" in a classroom, growing on a wall next to the sink. The report says, "Most likely this area got wet and was never dried behind the supplies and was a perfect habitat for mold growth, moist, dark and warm." The report claims that "this condition in no way was caused by the room or condition of the facility. It was strictly caused by the way the materials were stored and the manner in which people use the water in this area."

Air quality reports done subsequently in October 2017 did reveal mold and high humidity in the building, so it's plausible that the mold in May 2017 may also have been caused by the dampness inside the building.

Few details are provided about the repair history, but here is what we can see:

In August 2001 $24,390 was spent on waterproofing, excavation and repairs to a foundation wall of the interior courtyard and another $3,000 was spent to waterproof the basement a few months later in December 2001.

In November 2004 $5,000 was spent on mold remediation and then in January 2005, $50,173 was spent on mold remediation. No more details on the mold problem were provided but we do now know that the problems with water infiltration from the courtyard and in the basement, as well as mold, date back 16 years. The work orders show that the district attempted to stem the moisture problems using waterproofing and dehumidifiers, which were only partially effective.

The balance of the documents are primarily work orders outlining repairs to the building. They indicate damage from water coming into the basement, gutters and drains that don't work properly, damp walls, stained ceiling tiles, odors and even leaking sewage. These report start with a rotten floor in the teachers lounge and bubbling paint in 2006 and extend through the years to leaks and seepage in 2017.

Here are just a few examples of the issues:

"Teacher complaints about bad odor from board behind sink area. Appears to have old linoleum carpet on wall. Need to replace with cork."

"Damage from water coming in through the window flooding basement. Wall and wood cubbies damaged by lost and found."

"Wall leaking through crack when heavy rain falls on inner courtyard."

"Old drain pipe that was recently capped off is leaking, overspilling sewage down into boiler room."

"The pit near the boiler room has been holding some water which is seeping
through the foundation into the boiler room."

The FOIL request for "complaints from parents, students and teachers about excess moisture or mold in the school or regarding respiratory ailments was only partially granted as the district says, "the disclosure would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy insofar as such records reference the personal medical history/information of an individual or individuals."

However a few pages of complaints from teachers were offered, without their names. From what we can see, many of the teachers in the building were concerned about mold.

An email dated October 7 2015 from Greenacres Principal Sharon Hill to the district's Director of Facilities John Trenholm says:

Dear John:
Hoping you are well!
I am providing you with the list of rooms/areas that the staff would like tested for mold. I am sure you will let me know next steps.
Thank you!

Basement area including Art, OT and Music Rooms
Kindergarten cubby room
Kindergarten – Guardino Room 5
Kindergarten Quirk – Room 8
Speech Room
Spanish Room – Room 10
Elrich –Room 25
Leitner – Room 13
Sharon de Lorenzo's office and adjacent office
Rosenthal – Room 11
Library
O'Rourke – Room 18
Manin-Room 7
Mazza – Room 9

A few weeks later, on October 30, 2015 Hill asked teachers to document any complaints. She wrote, "John Trenholm recently conducted testing in classrooms and has prepared a report which Karen and Christina will be sharing with you. In connection with that report, please let me know if you have experienced an symptoms that are attributable to being in your classroom or the building environment"

Here are their responses:

"Allergies, stuffy nose, fluid in ears, post nasal drip, especially when handling materials that are musty and moldy-smelling from being inside cabinets."

"Since moving into room XX in XX I have needed to take allergy medicine not only during spring and fall, but also during winter – for scratchy throat, nose and ear congestion. More recently, the past 2 years my eyes have begun to react when at school. During the week I use allergy/steroid drops to help with those symptoms."

"Coughing, headaches, sneezing at times.

Mostly damp and dusty. In winter the heat is non-stop, which makes our room 85 degrees daily.

Last, the district included the following email:

GA5-19-17

 

You can view the full response to the FOIL request here. Note that the newly released information begins on page 45.

The administration is currently proposing to renovate Greenacres and add 8 classrooms and a large cafeteria/learning commons to the building. They have said they will remediate the moisture issues by installing commercial dehumidifiers and moving all children and staff out of the basement. Some pipes may be replaced, but the scope does not include a total replacement of the building's plumbing or the inclusion of air conditioning.

It is not known whether the dampness and mold can be totally eradicated. The record here shows that moisture comes in from the foundation, the walls and the roof and that many attempts to waterproof the building and prevent infiltration have been made over the last 16 years.

Although we received limited materials in response to our FOIL request, it's clear from these records that environmental problems have affected Greenacres for at least 16 years, that teachers have complained about potential effects on their health and that remediation has been unsuccessful.

It will be up to the voters to decide whether or not it makes sense to spend $30 million to extend the life of this building.

Commenting on the information, local realtor Anne Dowd Moretti said, "Absolutely true, and homeowners in Greenacres deserve better than to have the cloud of children studying inside a school which may have environmental issues such as lead paint dust infiltration, airborne mold/mildew spores and anything else that might permeate the classroom environment. Mold can usually be effectively remediated; however, if there's an entrenched issue -decades ongoing-caused by old construction techniques, a high water table, and active mold creeping up through porous drywalls and unchecked for decades, that could be a much larger problem to fix. No one will know the extent of this until the walls are opened and construction begins. That's not how to begin a community project of this importance. We need to know all the facts, and it seems to me that the District must revise its cost analysis in light of these findings. Then our community can decide, once all the facts are known. Thank you, Joanne, for your efforts in making sure Scarsdale is fully informed."

If anyone wants to share any knowledge they have about this issue, email us at scarsdalecomments@gmail.com.

Comments   

+7 #20 Mold is NOT OK 2017-12-08 11:35
Kathy- I don't think anyone needs environmental experts to tell us that there is mold once you SEE it and you SMELL it. Teachers brought this up and there is no room for interpretation by any expert.
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-6 #19 Kathy Stahler 2017-12-07 16:42
Have you talked to an environmental specialist or just tried to understand the reports yourself? I can't understand them, so would love to hear what an untainted expert would actually say. Do you have any training in this type of work? Just so curioius because they seem to be above my head and your quotes are often out of context... The mold was all surface mold from what I can understand, but once again- this is too hard for anyone to understand and should be properly translated for all of us to better absorb. This shouldn't be an assumption and guessing game for you when you are a news source.
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+9 #18 Scarsdale Resident 2017-12-07 16:12
When a VERY LARGE pipe burst on the top floor of my friend's Manhattan Co-Op building, the Co-Op board called in the Insurance Company to investigate the problem. The water drained from the top floor all the way down to the basement and soaked many apartments on the way down. The Insurance company had all the owners of the now soaked apartments evacuate the building and relocate into Residence-Inn Type Hotels until the situation could be remediated. The whole process took ONE YEAR. The insurance Company absorbed most of the costs (that's their job) and most of the wet drywall and wooden floors were replaced. I'm not really clear why something like this wasn't suggested for the Greenacres School, if the water damage is so significant. Also, didn't hear ANYTHING about PERC Tests being done on Greenacres Property. When we renovated out home, and were making potential Drainage Upgrades, we did multiple PERC Tests on our property in the Spring, when the water tables are the highest. Then we were able to make informed decisions. That Design/Build Process took ONE YEAR, also ... These are routine procedures, and don't understand why we're not hearing about them :{
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+14 #17 Taylor 2017-12-05 20:49
How many data points does the community need prior to realizing we need new administration leadership? I think many are now looking at the bond vote as a referendum on the current leadership. Why is the administration pushing a project that is so clearly fatally flawed? As everyone who has ever done a renovation knows (and there are a lot in this town), you don’t invest considerably on a failing foundation/infr astructure.

Thank you 10583 for your coverage and working to hold the stakeholders here accountable. Now it’s up to the community to use our civic power when we cast our votes.
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+28 #16 Thank you 2017-12-05 10:51
You were a wonderful teacher and we are so grateful that you have chosen to step forward for the benefit of the children.

I am so sorry that the issues you raised over many years were not taken more seriously. The health and safety of both children and teachers must now be of the highest priority in Greenacres. I hope that the board of ed and the administration hear the message loud and clear.

Quoting Former Greenacres Teacher:
To whom It may concern:
It upsets me to write this response. But, it is something I need to do for myself and my colleagues. I am a retired teacher from Greenacres school that spent 27 years in the basement teaching. I spent most of those years expressing my concerns to school administration about the smell, mold, dampness and humidity in my room. Water would come in from the outside door and floor. Custodians would kindly mop it up but I knew the water was still under the linoleum. Bathrooms would leak into the hallway. Sometimes clean ups were done as a band aid to the problem. Years ago I remember an Asbestos cleanup that took place in my room. Most windows in my room were inoperable. Need I say more! Three years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer. And it started in my lungs. Do I need to say more!
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+28 #15 Time to involve outside govt agencies? 2017-12-05 09:08
The district is spending a lot of our taxpayer dollars on testing but with a clear bias towards interpretation of the results in a manner that serves their agenda of proceeding with the bond as planned. Why don't the involved teachers file an OSHA complaint so that a third party without the same biases and agenda is taking a fresh look at these results?
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+29 #14 To Former Greenacres Teacher 2017-12-05 08:53
Thank you for sharing this for the benefit of the children. I know it must have been difficult. I am very disappointed in our. Pats of Education and Administration.

Quoting Former Greenacres Teacher:
To whom It may concern:
It upsets me to write this response. But, it is something I need to do for myself and my colleagues. I am a retired teacher from Greenacres school that spent 27 years in the basement teaching. I spent most of those years expressing my concerns to school administration about the smell, mold, dampness and humidity in my room. Water would come in from the outside door and floor. Custodians would kindly mop it up but I knew the water was still under the linoleum. Bathrooms would leak into the hallway. Sometimes clean ups were done as a band aid to the problem. Years ago I remember an Asbestos cleanup that took place in my room. Most windows in my room were inoperable. Need I say more! Three years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer. And it started in my lungs. Do I need to say more!
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+32 #13 Dear Former Greenacres Teacher 2017-12-05 08:46
Dear Former Greenacres Teacher,

Thank you for sharing your story publicly. I hope that it will cause the district to take the problems with the GA building more seriously for the benefit of the many kids in the school.

Please know that your service to our kids was truly appreciated. My child absolutely loved having you. You instilled a passion in her that has continued to grow.

I wish you all the best. Thank you for adding important context to this timely discussion.
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+25 #12 To Unhappy Greenacres Parent 2017-12-05 08:28
The Former Greenacres Teacher was not a smoker.

Quoting Unhappy Greenacres Parent:
Former Greenacres teacher should sue the School District if she can establish that exposure to asbestos in her basement classroom caused her lung cancer. Query, was she was smoker? Did she have other environmental exposures besides her job at Greenacres?
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+25 #11 Unhappy Greenacres Parent 2017-12-05 00:01
Former Greenacres teacher should sue the School District if she can establish that exposure to asbestos in her basement classroom caused her lung cancer. Query, was she was smoker? Did she have other environmental exposures besides her job at Greenacres?
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