Panel will address air quality at school; Gas leaks, other odors led to 6 evacuations at Crofton Middle


Carol S. Parham, the Anne Arundel County superintendent of schools, called last night for a school and community committee to study air-quality problems at Crofton Middle School. The announcement, made at a meeting at the school for parents and teachers, came two weeks after gas leaks and other suspicious odors prompted six evacuations in as many school days.

James L. Coggins, president of Energy Applications, a Columbia-based environmental consulting firm, recommended the committee, along with bringing in an occupational health physician to consult with faculty members and parents.

Coggins and school maintenance workers completed an examination of mechanical and ventilation systems and sampled air quality while the school was closed Friday and over the weekend. They found no further leaks and no need of repairs, officials said.

"The HVAC [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] system is working properly with minor exceptions," said Coggins. "We saw no health hazards in the building." Minor problems detected included dirty air filters and stains in ceiling tiles.

Problems with the school's evacuation procedures and fire alarm systems, noted two weeks ago, also have been solved, school officials said. Parham said the committee of parents, faculty, maintenance workers and the school nurse will help address any further concerns.

"Since there was a history in the school, we want to have a group to look at all the information and to control rumors," Parham said. "We want to go every step to make sure we leave no stone unturned in addressing our concerns."

Principal Richard Berzinski, Assistant Superintendent Ken Nichols and officials from the county fire marshal's office were at the school last night to answer parents' questions and address concerns.

Parents seemed most worried that it took the school nine days to resolve the problem, but Ed Almes, head of the school system maintenance department, said the problems were remedied immediately.

"We weren't exposing the leaks to anybody," Almes said. "We repaired it and got it back on line. The emergency was taken care of."

Students were evacuated six times and sent home once because of the gas leak problems from Jan. 26 to Feb. 3, incidents that Parham labeled "traumatic and unsettling." Fire inspectors opened an investigation into school procedures after the first evacuation because students were still in the building when the first fire units arrived.

Berzinski used the public address system to tell students to get their jackets before they left the building, school officials said. This went against state school board policy, which requires that buildings be evacuated using the fire alarm system.

As a result of the mix-up, school board officials re-released evacuation procedures to all county school principals and ordered them placed in the binder of school protocols.

Fire officials also issued the school a violation notice during the Jan. 26 evacuation because strobe lights on the fire alarm were not working. Those lights were repaired, school officials reported.

After a third leak, on Jan. 29, maintenance workers repaired boilers over the weekend and the next Monday, when students were off because of teacher training. The next school day, Feb. 2, students were sent home early because an odor similar to exhaust was detected in the boiler room.

Although maintenance workers, fire inspectors and Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. officials checked the building and found no additional leaks, another odor that was detected the next day -- later found to be harmless -- prompted an evacuation just before dismissal.

Pub Date: 2/10/99

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