Dear Galvez Primary, Galvez Middle, Lake Elementary and St. Amant High Families,
Friday evening, a report by WBRZ indicated Ascension Public Schools has been working to eliminate an odor at some of our new temporary ("T") buildings. Let me begin by apologizing to those of you that were disappointed that we had not shared with you information regarding our work on the new temporary buildings in the last couple of weeks. In hindsight, I should have provided you with some information. This message is an effort to provide you with the timeline of events, what we've learned, and what we are doing with regard to what was reported to us several days ago as an ammonia-like smell.
Each year, as we bring buildings, buses, technology, and many other resources back online for the start of school, we discover last minute issues that need to be addressed. These buildings were part of that process. Many buildings on our temporary campuses were used throughout the summer for summer activities. The buildings that remained in use throughout the summer have not been reported to have a distinct smell. However, several buildings sat throughout the summer with little or no use and minimal, if any, traffic in and out. These dormant buildings (less than 25% of our 40 modular buildings) were reported to have a presence of this smell.
Additionally, it is important to include that these campuses have hosted days of high traffic this past week with activities of teachers, parents, and students during prep week and other beginning-of-the-year functions. These activities have gone well. Given that those activities involved many of you, as parents/guardians, it was our assumption that most of you were aware that we were working on eliminating unpleasant odors from some of our buildings. The tubing used to ventilate buildings was installed while many of you were on campus for your child's prep day, but again, I apologize for not specifically messaging that to you.
Initially, we thought the odor/ammonia-like smell was associated with plumbing. So, our first few days involved testing the plumbing systems, which took place the week before last week. Once we determined that the plumbing was not the source of the smell, we began to explore other possibilities. That effort began early this past week. We called in experts from various sources. During discussions early last week, we began suspecting that the source of the odor was typical off-gassing of newly manufactured materials as is with a new house, new car, new carpet, etc. Heat tends to exacerbate such off-gassing and those buildings with little or no use were simply not properly ventilating those smells, as they would under normal use of ongoing in and out traffic. The smells were temporarily trapped and accumulating. With that as our next hypothesis, we began with some immediate next steps toward a solution:
Some preliminary results of the above efforts:
- Accelerate ventilation as you would in your own home if you had the presence of an unwelcome smell or odor. And, as we always do, out of an abundance of caution, we chose to include all the new T-buildings at Galvez Primary, Galvez Middle, Lake Elementary, and St. Amant High schools in this accelerated ventilation effort, not just those identified as problems to ensure that we don't begin experiencing problems in other buildings.
- Call in environmental experts to ensure air quality safety, better identify the source of the smell, and get advice regarding prevention of any future occurrence of this odor. We partnered with environmental engineers and have been in conversation with the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) and chemists. Our two goals here are to ensure continued safe occupancy first but, in addition to that, comfortable occupancy. It is not enough to just ensure environmental safety, but we need to also ensure that all teachers and students do not experience any irritation from any possible odor, even if that odor is within environmental safety standards.
- Partner with Aries, our T-building manufacturer, to consider enhancing ventilation and/or air flow systems of these buildings by way of more intentional mechanical processes so that we do not have to depend on “use” to serve as the only ventilation system of these buildings. Aries offered to begin looking into installing some additional mechanical processes this weekend.
As of Friday noon, reports from teachers and principals who occupy these buildings indicate that the smell has been drastically reduced in most areas, completely eliminated in many spaces, and no one has expressed experiencing any of the irritations they were experiencing earlier in the week.
As of late Saturday afternoon, an environmental engineer completed 2 days of comprehensive testing in multiple buildings that included those designated as potential problems and those without reported smells or odors. The air sampling data does not indicate that there exist any dangerous levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or ammonia in these buildings. In general, VOC and ammonia levels are clearly acceptable for occupancy. Our plans moving forward:
Given the information and data gathered throughout the past couple of days, we believe, and our engineering consultants agree, that even though there are odors, no levels were found to be unsafe. In addition, the odor from off-gassing is no longer as prevalent due to our initial efforts of increased ventilation.
Even though we are confident regarding both safety and comfort, we remain diligent and intentional to ensure that concentration levels do not increase to levels that create discomfort to occupants, much less exceed unhealthy levels.
Therefore, our engineering partners will continue to conduct testing throughout this week as well as weeks ahead and beyond on a regular schedule. These engineers will use their systematic testing process to monitor data levels of the building air quality as well as gather anecdotal data from occupants regarding the quality of their daily existence in the buildings. These engineers join us in a commitment to fully ensure that levels of compounds remain at both safe and comfortable levels.
Our engineering consultants, as well as the building vendors and our temporary campus project managers, will continue to discuss how air flow systems in these buildings can be enhanced. Although we have successfully decreased building odors by temporarily increasing ventilation, these experts will begin exploring more permanent possibilities to increase efficient air flow systems within the building in order to ensure that any material off-gassing continues to be properly exhausted as would be typical to any building and to ensure that future problems with air quality are prevented.
We encourage all occupants in the days ahead to immediately report any concerns they may have regarding building air quality to the principal who will, in turn, immediately report this information to district level officials in charge of maintenance. Please join us in this effort by encouraging your children to notify their teacher if they experience odors or smells that make them uncomfortable. We will respond accordingly to assess the concern and move quickly to ensure that both safety and comfort remain as our highest priorities.
Once again, I apologize for the delay in sharing this with you. We will continue to keep you updated as we discover any additional new information. As of now, reports from experts this weekend indicate levels that are clearly safe for occupancy. In addition, day-to-day occupants reported this past Friday that the building odor has significantly dissipated and in some cases has completely disappeared.
We are very appreciative of the many internal and external stakeholders to include many of you, that have worked to keep us informed of air quality concerns and to assist us in solutions. Many have worked tirelessly the past couple of weeks to identify and create solutions so that our children in these communities have the opportunity to safely and comfortably return to school this next week.
We hope and pray that these efforts continue to be our solution to this unexpected issue and look forward to our teachers officially beginning their work on Monday and Tuesday. And, most of all, we anxiously await the opportunity to begin serving your children this Wednesday as we begin Day 1 of the 2017-18 school year.