A stinky odor that pervaded through Lawrence High School as a result of flooding from Sandy has mostly been resolved, according to Superintendent Gary Schall.
Water had seeped under the building and under the auditorium stage, which was all pumped out, according to Schall. However, due to mold concerns, the auditorium will be closed for at least three months. The area underneath the building has been sealed, and areas were ventilated to reduce the odor. Water remains in the basement, where boxes of files (records the district has to keep) were soaked — which is the main cause of any leftover odor.
“We’ve had several meetings with environmental experts, restoration companies and the teachers’ union. Everyone was very comfortable,” Schall said. “There [is] no danger or health-related issues at the high school.”
While Superstorm Sandy took a hard toll on many Five Towns homes, Lawrence’s school buildings came out of the storm very well, Schall said. Besides flooding at the high school, the only other damage was to two skylights at the middle school. Schools reopened in District 15 on Tuesday after about two weeks.
Schall estimates that the problem at the high school has been 90 percent resolved, with the other 10 percent being rectified on Friday. Over the weekend, the files and boxes, as well as old furniture, that were flooded will be removed from the building.
“They’ve taken all the right measures to make sure the building is safe and cleaned up,” said Blasia Baum, president of Central Council PTA. “They’ve really done their homework.”
The Lawrence Teachers' Administration echoed Baum's remarks.
"We are confident that the district is taking all of the right steps to ensure that the building is safe for all staff members and students," it told Patch. "A plan of action has been put in place, and it is now up to the restoration crew to carry out the plan. We are confident that Superintendent Schall will continue to make decisions that place safety as the top priority. We will continue to monitor the progress of the work closely."
The carpets in the auditorium have been removed, and the chairs were sanitized so no mold forms. The cushions will eventually be replaced as well. All performances have been moved to the middle school. One orchestra class that practiced in the auditorium has been moved to the cafeteria.
Baum said she “thought Gary was going to open the [auditorium] door and I’d be knocked out by the smell,” but there was no smell.
However, one parent, who did want to be named, said the situation isn’t so simple.
“Toxicity doesn’t just go away,” the parent said. “You can’t wave a magic wand and say it’s safe for the kids.”
The parent said her child complained of congestion and a sore throat after returning from school on Wednesday. Sewage and mold is not so easily removed, she added.
“Once it’s in your lungs, it’s very hard to get it out,” she said. “I’d rather not have one teacher, administrator or kid suffering from this.”
Baum also said her child returned from school with a headache one day, but she said it could have been caused by the stress and trauma created by Sandy.
“After going through the building today, I don’t think anyone was negatively impacted by mold or smell or anything like that,” she said.
Schall was confident in the district’s efforts.
“By Monday, this will be totally behind this,” he said.
Meanwhile, he stressed the storm’s long-term impacts on students, parents and faculty of the community.
"There is a new normal now,” he said, “and we have to recognize that there’s a major challenge ahead of us.”
Schall will host a town hall meeting on Monday at 7 p.m. on the condition of the schools, academics, lost school days and where the district goes from here.