Update Regarding WHS Facility

posted Oct 27, 2017, 3:30 PM by Deanne Galdston

To the WHS Community:

This communication provides a brief summary of key findings in the EFI Global report on asbestos at the High School and the process that led to this report.  The report, available on the WPS website, documents the presence of asbestos at the High School in a condition that requires remediation.  The report identifies a number of rooms and ceiling spaces that require some level of remediation, primarily due to asbestos in skim coat plaster that has deteriorated.  The initial cost estimate by EFI is $175,000-$250,000; more detailed cost estimates are being prepared.   Please know that student and staff safety is of the utmost importance to us and we will work diligently to remedy the situation as soon as possible. 

By way of background, the Watertown School Department contracted in August with EFI Global, an environmental engineering firm, to perform an evaluation of school buildings as part of the requirements of the AHERA Act of 1988.  The evaluation determined that the skim coat plaster in many rooms at the High School contained asbestos, which had not been previously detected.  The consultants from EFI returned on Wednesday, October 18, to conduct an additional inspection of the skim coat plaster.  On Friday, October 20, they confirmed the presence in the High School of areas that were damaged or significantly damaged, and that remediation would be necessary.  While none of the asbestos is in a current state of disturbance, another environmental engineering firm was contacted and conducted air quality testing on Saturday, October 21, with the results being well below federal and state limits. 

The final report by EFI was completed on Wednesday, October 25.  The full report can be found on the WPS website under the Parent Resources top tab (www.watertown.k12.ma.us).  Table 2 of the report provides a full inventory of rooms and likely response actions for remediation.  The inventory identifies 17 classrooms/offices that have significantly damaged plaster; 10 areas with drop ceilings that should not be disturbed; 22 ceilings with peeling paint that need to be encapsulated (the paint itself does not contain asbestos); 2 rooms with floor tiles that need to be replaced; and 33 rooms with less damaged plaster that also need to be encapsulated.   All told, 51 classrooms will require various levels of remediation, although most involve small areas that can be addressed during non-school hours.  It is estimated that remediation can be completed over a period of 30-90 days

As part of EFI’s evaluation, on Monday, October 23, an asbestos abatement contractor from Northstar Contracting Group walked through the school to provide a cost estimate for the repairs.  During the walkthrough, the contractor informed us of several options for remediating the plaster, which include applying bridging encapsulant, or sheetrock and joint compound.   With the report being finalized, the School Department will properly procure abatement services in the coming days. 

Importantly, the contractor noted that the building showed evidence of compromise from water infiltration, primarily through exterior walls, and cautioned that remediation, while important for the short-term, will not be a long-term solution.  As water infiltrates, it likely will cause the encapsulation materials to be compromised.   This could result in an ongoing need for remediation, as the larger issues with the building envelope are not easily rectified in its current state.   The School Department will continually monitor the state of the remediated plaster and attend to it as needed.

The School Administration and School Committee will continue to work closely with the professionals in this area to ensure the health and safety of students and staff at the High School.  Remediation will begin as soon as possible with a minimum of disruption to the school schedule.  While these issues will be addressed, this experience highlights the major long-term challenges of providing a building and learning environment to support today’s student experience.  The School Administration and School Committee will continue to seek state support to address the long-term building needs of the High School.   The School Committee has scheduled a meeting on Monday, October 30, at 5:30 to discuss the final AHERA report. 

Thank you,

Dede Galdston, Ed.D.