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Air quality became a concern for teachers, staff; problem later solved

November 21, 2017

With an old building like Central, there are bound to be issues that arise. Creaky floors and withering walls are considered to be normalities; interesting bits of character hidden inside a historic landmark. Along with minor problems come some that require more attention, and the English department realized this after teachers began to notice something.

First, a chemical smell enveloped the English rooms on the second floor, between the four and one side. A smell that resembled rotten eggs or sulfur was the culprit, becoming a minor nuisance. That odor has floated through those rooms for years, according to Jodie Martinez, English department head. “This issue has been a problem since I started working here in 1987,” Martinez said. She also said that teachers who may have been new to the building were more concerned than she was, as the smell was intermittent. “I always thought it was just a minor inconvenience, a minor feature of the building that we just had to tolerate,” Martinez said. “It wasn’t so intrusive [before] as it seemed to have been now.”

Teachers learned that it was because of possible leaks in tanks that held waste from the chemistry rooms directly above, but nothing was for sure. The problem continued, particularly in rooms 249 and 211. Some teachers began getting health symptoms, and thought the smell was a sign that there was a larger problem in the building.

249 is where Anna Wiksell teaches English, including AP Literature and Composition. While the smell was not as noticeable to her at the beginning of the school year, another problem along with it soon became apparent.

“Teachers in that room and in the rooms around it began reporting after spending a long time, [about] two periods or longer, we would get dizzy, we would be nauseous, light-headed and have headaches,” Wiksell said.

After consultation between some of the teachers, they recognized that those who taught classes in the rooms around 249 and 211 were having the same symptoms. Wiksell estimates that around September, teachers approached building administration about the problem, wanting some sort of investigation into what was wrong.

Air tests were conducted by officials from the Environmental and Safety department of the school district. They found high concentrations of carbon dioxide, meaning that fresh oxygen was not coming into the room as much as it should. This was caused by problems in the ventilation and the air exchangers in the ceiling. The high amounts explained some of the exhaustion and headaches teachers were feeling. Once those air exchangers were fixed, air tests found that carbon dioxide levels were still “high, but acceptable” from what Martinez was told.

Then, focus was shifted back to the tanks that were attributed as the source of the sulfur smell. Supposedly, they were resealed and rerouted to fix the problem temporarily, but environmental officials want to remove the tanks. That would be a much larger five to six day task, so Martinez believes they will come back around Christmas time.

As far as student safety was concerned, no symptoms or issues had been reported, as one period of high concentration carbon dioxide was not going to cause any issues. However, due to the smell still being prevalent in some of the rooms, windows were opened to dissipate the stench. Students had to bundle up to stay warm, but discussions about novels and plays commenced as normal. Distractions were minimal, and students began to tolerate the smell.

Overall, both Wiksell and Martinez were happy with how the air quality issues were taken care of, and believed that building administration and district officials worked as quickly as they could. They hope the only smell around the English classrooms moving forward is the smell of old pages in A Tale of Two Cities and that everyone can breathe a little easier.

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