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Lansdowne group cites asbestos among school problems at Board of Education meeting

Lansdowne group cites asbestos among school problems at Board of Education meeting
Roxane Zach holds up a sign while demonstrating at a Board of Education meeting Feb. 2, asking for a new Lansdowne High School. Roxane Zach has two grandchildren at the school. (Rachael Pacella /)

The Lansdowne High School community renewed their cry for a new building at a Baltimore County Board of Education meeting Feb. 2.

The school is scheduled for a renovation that will cost more than $30 million, but parents, teachers and students have been saying the 53-year-old building is beyond repair.

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More than 20 people attended the Board of Education meeting in Towson, wearing blue to show solidarity for the cause. Their complaints include asbestos, as well as failing plumbing, cracked tiling, bad drinking water and handicap accessibility issues.

Magnet coordinator Luke Simon said earlier this year that asbestos was found on dance uniforms that had been kept in a large storage closet in the school gym.

Roxane Zach has two grandchildren at the school, a freshman and a sophomore. At the board meeting she wore a blue shirt and held up a blue sign that read "constantly breathing in asbestos."

"I lost two brothers to asbestos," Zach said of the mineral, which was used for insulation in buildings until the Environmental Protection Agency banned it in 1989. It is connected with the development of lung cancers, including mesothelioma.

"If there's asbestos in this school, I don't want my grandchildren to be breathing it," she said.

Baltimore County Public Schools spokesman Mychael Dickerson said in December that broken floor tiles containing asbestos were discovered in a storage room in the gym.

"The most recent full inspection of Lansdowne was in July and as it is normal protocol for additional periodic spot inspections during the year. In December staff was asked to inspect a storage room off the gymnasium and followed the appropriate environmental and abatement protocols to make sure the area is safe," he said in an email.

Roxane's son, Chris Zach, was one of 10 audience members picked to speak at the meeting. He said since January the group has gathered 900 signatures on a petition to bring a new high school to the Lansdowne community, as well as the support of the Halethorpe Elementary PTA, Lansdowne Improvement Association and Riverview Improvement Association.

"I think this is the thing that to be able to give our students that globally competitive opportunity that we all strive for here in Baltimore County Public Schools," Zach said.

Senior Mary Duvall also spoke at the meeting in support of a new school.

"Lansdowne High School has always been on the back burner of the schools, as nicer parts of Baltimore County are given stuff on the spot, while we have to wait years to get things we desperately need," she said.

The district itself gave the school a poor grade — 1.74 out of 5 — in a facilities audit completed in December 2014.

"Interior finishes are in very poor condition, and water damage is evident in the ceilings and exterior windows," the audit said. "Corridors are long, and multiple level changes create accessibility issues. The exterior skin of the building is failing. There is significant structural settlement. Mechanical systems are in poor condition. The site is comprised of significant topography changes, and a major intersection adjacent to the school creates traffic concerns."

Since 2000, $11.1 million has been spent on capital improvements to the school, according to the audit. The planned renovation is for more than $30 million, though a final number won't be available until the county completes a discovery process where they will assess the building's condition.

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Among other Baltimore County high schools, Dundalk High School, which has about 200 more students than Lansdowne, received a new $100 million building in 2013. Hereford High School, which is about the same size as Lansdowne, received a $51.1 million renovation completed in 2015.

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