Trailwood parents lobby school board to delay demolition of old building citing concerns about contaminants

Trailwood parent Liz DiSalvo spoke to the Shawnee Mission School Board on Monday.
Trailwood parent Liz DiSalvo spoke to the Shawnee Mission School Board on Monday.

There are strongly felt mixed emotions around the Trailwood Elementary community these days.

On the one hand, students and parents are excited that starting Jan. 4, the kids will get to attend class in a brand new, state-of-the-art facility. On the other, the prospect of having the original school building demolished while kids and staff are just a few feet away in the new building has prompted serious concerns about health and safety.

A contingent of Trailwood parents turned out in force at Monday’s school board meeting to ask the district to delay its planned demolition of the building until the summer, when the site will be vacated of students. Fears of exposure to contaminants like asbestos and silica dust have led several parents to organize efforts lobbying the district to change¬†plans from starting the abatement and demolition¬†process late next month.

A half dozen parents used the open forum portion of Monday’s meeting to spell out their worries. Jarrod Guthrie, an attorney who has spent more than a decade working in the construction and engineering fields, said that despite the best efforts of talented contractors, unforeseen circumstances present themselves on demolition jobs all the time. Although the risk of exposing kids and staff to asbestos or silica dust may be small, Guthrie said, even a simple mistake could lead to contamination of the nearby areas. Though the risk may be small, the results of an accident could be “catastrophic.”

Liz DiSalvo, who has been among the leaders in organizing efforts encouraging the district to delay the demolition process, thanked the board for investing the resources to bring the community a beautiful new building. But, she said, serious concerns linger about whether even the best abatement and containment efforts can completely mitigate the risk.

“It’s virtually feet away,” she said. “So when the demolition happens, there are going to be hazardous materials in the air that will be close to our children. Our recess area is feet away from this demolition space. And it’s very concerning. Where these kids are going to be running…and breathing in air that the construction workers will be protected from with respiratory protection that is mandated by OSHA.”

District leaders are planning to meet with construction and health officials as well as the Trailwood PTA president and principal Jan. 10 to go over the situation and review the potential consequences of delaying the project. The district would likely incur a financial penalty from the contractor for altering the schedule, and the new school’s circle drive, parking lot and play area would not be ready for the start of the new school year.

Parent David Kirsch argued that those inconveniences would be worth the trade off.

“We understand that there will be difficulties with this, but we can persevere with these difficulties — meaning a lack of parking a lack of play area — to ensure that the new school is equally inviting to those at Trailwood with the most fragile health,” he said. “We can remove the risk for the 457 students, faculty and staff and make sure the demolition takes place with zero additional risk.”