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School-Year Asbestos Removal Plan Concerns Some P.S. 29 Parents

COBBLE HILL — Parents at P.S. 29 are concerned that an asbestos removal project that's going on while school is still in session is putting their children at risk.

The abatement, which started Saturday, is part of an 18-month renovation of the school, a 91-year-old building located at 425 Henry St. The primary worry, according to some parents, is that the construction and clean-up occurs only hours before the students file in for classes the next morning.  

Although some parents admitted that the construction is needed for such an antiquated building, citing a leaky roof as one of the reasons renovations started, parents say they are concerned about the lack of fresh air in the building, which has its windows and air conditioners covered with plastic.

“It’s really a drag that my children have to go to school in a Ziploc bag,” said Rebecca Johnson, a parent of a student at P.S. 29. “The asbestos issue has really been overblown. It’s more of a dust thing.”

The project is part of the DOE’s five-year Capital Plan, which is overseen by the School Construction Authority, according to Marge Feinberg, a spokesperson for the DOE.

The majority of school buildings are 70 some years old, but P.S. 29 is even older than that and was in need of major capital improvements, Feinberg said.

The improvements include a new roof, parapets, exterior masonry, and replacement of some windows. The project is expected to be completed in July 2013, the SCA said.

“The P.S. 29 capital improvement project is no different than any capital projects we do at schools throughout the city,” said Feinberg. “We follow DEP protocols and do not conduct any work during the school day.”

Construction begins every day at 4 p.m., once students are out of school and continues until 10 p.m. with clean-up beginning at 11 p.m.

Additionally, each morning, at 6 a.m., representatives from the SCA, a construction crew and concerned parents inspect the school before classes begin.

“The next morning, kids, teachers who might be pregnant or have asthma occupy the school merely hours after construction takes place in the school,” said Ronda Keyser, a parent and a member of the Health and Safety Committee at P.S. 29. “Buildings need time to breath for clean-up to be considered complete or effective.”

Children risk exposure to invisible particles in the air from construction in several ways, said Keyser, who noted that particles can settle on books and rugs, where students often lay and then put their hands in their mouths.

The school has taken precautions to protect students from exposure to dust and asbestos. For instance; construction workers do not enter the school building, all work is performed in separate areas from occupants, and workers are required to use HEPA — high efficiency particulate arresting — vacuum attachments on power tools during masonry work.

Also, large plastic sheets are placed over the exterior of classroom windows, air conditioners are covered during work hours, and the SCA has agreed to hose off the scaffolding, netting windows and sills every night after work.

To ensure asbestos isn’t permeating into the school, Taylor Environmental Group, a third-party group hired by the SCA, will monitor the campus's air during the abatement procedure.

In response to concerns from parents, the SCA has agreed to meet with representatives of P.S. 29 every other week to discuss scheduling and proper health precautions.

The agency has also agreed to hold off on a process called “raking,” which involves the preparation of brick installation and produces a lot of dust, until July when school is out.

According to Craig Hammerman, district manager of Community Board 6 in Brooklyn, the Department of Education is one of the only city agencies that is not required to go through the community boards to get approval for large construction projects in the neighborhood — “which is an unfortunate circumstance,” said Hammerman. “Community boards can help mediate between agencies and communities, to find out what the impacts are.”

“We are affected by the dust from the project, the light and noise from the construction which occurs until 10 p.m. at night after school is over, and recently, on Saturdays,” said Joanne Nicholas, a representative of the Baltic Street Block Association.  “We are, of course, also concerned with the dust’s effect on the school yard and inside the school where children might be affected.”