From schools reporter Joe Burris:
A group of parents, teachers, staff and students from Edgewater Elementary School on Thursday night implored Anne Arundel school officials to prioritize improvements to the school's aging structure, which they say is wrought with health concerns.
The school board held the second of two public hearings on Thursday night for Superintendent Kevin Maxwell's Fiscal Year 2013 budget. But public testimony was dominated by the group of about 50 people from the Edgewater community, whose school – which was first occupied in 1953 and has had renovations in 1964 and 1985 – isn't up for a feasibility study and design for renovations until Fiscal Year 2016.
Most members of the group stood and held signs that read, "Got Bad Air?" and "Got Mold," as other members took turns telling board members about how children at the school have suffered from respiratory-related ailments.
"Edgewater has continually remained silent on these issues, and we decided that it was time to band together and see if we can make a difference," said Jenny Corkill, president of the Edgewater Elementary PTA.
"It's interesting to listen to all the parents talk about their kids and having a daughter that's been there who has had symptoms for three or four years," said Todd Holt of Edgewater. "You kind of ignore it as a parent and say, 'OK, they get sick.' But then when you put it all together, you go, 'In hindsight, that sniffle, that cough.'"
Corkill said that the Edgewater community's ultimate goal is to have the school moved up on the school system's priority list for renovations.
"For health reasons and overall conditions it's not working," Corkill said. "We do our piece [before the school board], and we go and talk to the County Council to see if we can make a difference there."
Anne Arundel schools chief operating officer Alex Szachnowicz said that the school system, upon hearing similar concerns from Edgewater residents last fall, had air and water quality studies performed on Edgewater Elementary in November and December.
"We did air quality testing where they checked more than 50 variables for air quality," said Szachnowicz. "The first time we did the test everything came back within acceptable limits.
"Because two of the more than 50 samples were lost or mishandled, we retested not just for those two items but for the entire building again," said Szachnowicz. "It did show that one of the rooms had high carbon dioxide levels, which is what we exhale when we breathe.
"When we researched the room to discover why it was so high, we discovered that the teacher in the room had her unit ventilator off," said Szachnowicz. "As soon as the unit ventilator was turned on, the carbon dioxide levels would go down in the room."
Szachnowicz said that the test also identified two leaks in the crawl space of the school's steam system. He said that pipes in the steam system have been repaired and that a third test was conducted after the repair. Szachnowicz said he is awaiting results of the test.
Szachnowicz said that about five years ago the water treatment system was replaced in the building after lead was found in the water and said that since then Edgewater Elementary has passed every state-required water test.
"We will continue to check and monitor the building and address anything we might find," said Szachnowicz. "The school district has got nothing to gain by not addressing any concerns or anything wrong in that building."
Board member Teresa Birge said that the board needs to open more lines of communication with the Edgewater Elementary community about the problem. "We continue to hear their concerns and we can see what can be mitigated now," she said. "I don't know if the order [of the feasibility study] would be changed or not, but whatever could be done to mitigate problems now of course we are going to do."
Corkill said that on Friday county officials visited the school again, which she said left her feeling that the concerns addressed on Thursday night were heard.
"Without question," Corkill said. "We think that it's a positive thing. We want the issues to be addressed and concerns looked at, and the more information they can share with us the better we will all be and feel."