Shawnee Mission School District officials say they are looking into what delaying the planned demolition of the original Trailwood Elementary building would mean for the start of the 2016-17 school year after a group of parents organized efforts requesting crews hold the work until summer amid concerns about students’ potential exposure to asbestos and other contaminants.
The parents have organized an online petition and plan to address the school board regarding the issue at Monday’s Board of Education meeting.
Clare Snyder, one of the parents promoting a delay, said the group began getting concerned about the presence of asbestos on the site when they realized how close the current play area being used for recess is to the demolition site. Trailwood students are scheduled to move into the new building, which has been under construction since August 2015 and is right next to the original facility, after the winter break.
“The proximity of the new building and the play area to the old building is what started raising questions,” Snyder said. “The kids are going to be really close to where the demolition is happening.”
Moreover, the issue of potential asbestos exposure has hit close to home for some families in the community. A Trailwood father died at the age of 38 of mesothelioma, a cancer commonly associated with exposure to the material.
The original plans for the site called for abatement phase of the building removal on Jan. 27. Once the asbestos abatement had been completed, actual demolition of the building would begin, likely around mid-March. That timeline would allow construction crews to complete work on the parking lot, circle drive and playground the district hoped to have complete for the start of the new school year.
Dr. Kenny Southwick, the Deputy Superintendent who oversees construction projects, said the district was collecting information on the contractor’s abatement plans as well as potential ramifications of delaying the work until summer, when students won’t be on site. The district has a current asbestos abatement plan in place for the facility, which will guide how the contractor, B&R Insulation/Environmental, approaches asbestos removal. Following proper abatement procedures should make the potential of asbestos exposure for kids on the playground extremely remote — but some parents say even a very low risk of exposure is still too much.
The contractor, district construction officials, Trailwood PTA president Christa Rupp and principal Greg Lawrence will meet Jan. 10 to discuss the issue in detail. Southwick said they’ll take the input from that meeting and make a final decision about whether to follow the original schedule or to delay sometime before the Jan. 27 target start date.
Rupp said that while she certainly understood the concerns of the parents who were organizing, the PTA was not endorsing their request for delay at this point.
“From the point of the PTA, the PTA is not taking a stance at this point,” Rupp said. “We’re doing our best to make sure parents feel listened to and representing all parents at Trailwood. Not all parents are feeling like the delay is necessary.”
The district recently faced the challenge of removing an old building at the same time students were attending class in a new facility on site when it opened Shawanoe Elementary several months ago. Southwick said the district did not receive any messages of concerns about contaminant exposure during the demolition phase on that project.