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Rosemont Elementary/Middle School parents protest roof replacement project that involves asbestos removal

Parents ask questions about the roof replacement at Rosemont Elementary/Middle School students.
Parents ask questions about the roof replacement at Rosemont Elementary/Middle School students. (Talia Richman)

Some parents of Rosemont Elementary/Middle School students are threatening to pull their children out of the Southwest Baltimore school if district officials go through with a roof replacement project that involves removing building material that has tested positive for asbestos.

Environmental contractors plan to demolish the existing roof during after-school hours from January through June, district officials told parents during a Wednesday night community meeting. Licensed contractors will seal off and wet work areas to prevent particles from spreading, in accordance with state and federal guidelines. Air samples will be taken before students are let back into the building each day.

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“The building is safe for occupancy,” said Alice Watson, the district’s director of health and safety told dozens of concerned parents. “We would not have you in the building if it was not safe for occupancy.”

But dozens of parents said they felt uncomfortable sending their children into a school building just hours after workers will be removing asbestos, a toxic, cancer-causing material once common in construction. Parents accused the district of putting their children in danger, often raising their voices to question the district’s intentions and ask officials if they would send their children to this school.

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“What is the assurance that we get that our children are protected here? As you may know, asbestos can cause all types of illnesses that are not right away identifiable,” said April Bailey, a parent of two Rosemont students. “Our babies are here.”

Asbestos has been classified as a known human carcinogen. According to the National Cancer Institute, if asbestos fibers get trapped in the lungs, they can accumulate and “cause scarring and inflammation, which can affect breathing and lead to serious health problems.”

Parents questioned why the district couldn’t arrange for the school to be temporarily relocated while the work is done. The school partners with Coppin State University, and many asked whether the university could take them in or whether classes could be taught in trailers.

“This is not an unusual project and the way we’re abating the project is not unusual,” Watson said. “It isn’t necessary to relocate building occupants for a roof abatement.”

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A letter went home to parents Dec. 6, alerting them of the project schedule. In the following days, some teachers wore surgical masks to school to bring awareness to what they saw as a serious health concern.

Tracey Goggins has many family members enrolled at Rosemont, including a granddaughter in first grade. She is threatening to remove her from the school should the project proceed. She said she doesn’t feel assured that the asbestos won’t infiltrate the air at the school

“I don’t want to take my granddaughter out,” Goggins said. “She’s happy there, she’s doing well. But my first priority is her health and her safety.”

The Baltimore city school board voted Tuesday to increase the amount of money they’re paying contractors for this project. The board originally voted on a contract May 9, in the amount of $770,000, with a contingency of $77,000. They approved the $415,000 increase Tuesday after learning the roofing material is hazardous.

The increased funding will cover the safe demolition and removal tactics, according to board materials.

Parents asked why this process couldn’t take place in the summer. Watson said there isn’t enough time to get the replacement done.

Many also questioned what would happen to after-school programs in the six months that construction is ongoing. There was no immediate answer.

“I’ll take these concerns to North Avenue,” Watson said.

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