Visit to Amity Senior High finds unsettling results, Sen. Crisco and Rep. Klarides both experienced respiratory discomfort

WOODBRIDGE - Despite the rocky and confrontational start, a contingent of state legislators and local officials toured Amity Senior High School with the hope of better understanding the outcry of their constituents about prolonged poor air quality in the school.

Neither Superintendent of Schools Rolfe Wenner or newly hired Principal Edward Goldstone accompanied the group but were instead represented by Attorney Dave Reif of Cummings and Lockwood.

Mold Matters columnist Lorri Cavaliere was among those on the tour. In actuality, Cavaliere spearheaded the tour following proper protocol, contacting the superintendent's office first for permission to conduct the visit.

Shortly after the tour began, Reif demanded that the news media not participate in the tour.

This ultimatum was met with outrage from Sen. Joseph Crisco, D-Woodbridge, and Orange First Selectman Mitchell Goldblatt, along with parents in attendance.

"If Bridget (Bulletin) isn't allowed to participate, then I won't go (on the tour) either," Crisco told Reif.

Goldblatt quizzed Reif, challenging prior statements that repairs had been made to improve the school's air quality.

"We are continuously told that the problems have been taken care of. What do you have to hide?" Goldblatt said.

The attorney's repeated response was, " We have pending litigation."

Following a lengthy discussion in which Reif was asked what right he had to determine who participated in the tour, he left and then returned, saying, "Let's go, all are welcome," because Wenner had approved the press coverage.

What follows are the results of the high school tour:

First stop was the stairwell adjacent to the media center. This area encompasses two floors and has a large section of glass at the top allowing for natural light to enter the hallway.

Along one concrete wall was an area filled vertically with a dark substance that appeared to be growing outward. In addition, a powdery white residue was visible on many of the cinder blocks.

Just below the windows, a peeling, puckering pattern was noted. This was easily defined by the different shades of paint covering the wall.

Throughout the tour, sagging ceiling tiles were noted in the hallways. Some had obvious stains. Also observed in the corridor was a ventilation grate that was stained and had rust-colored stains running down the wall from it.

The lecture room, complete with a sloped floor, had numerous cracks in the wall. Some were vertical and others horizontal. This room has been a source of complaints from many individuals.

Outside room 374 is an open pit into which water drains. It appears to be about four feet deep and six feet wide. The hole, surrounded by orange construction fencing, has been present for over a year. Apparently, this is where a pipe that had been laid had suddenly stopped. Although the hole was empty of water on the visit, this writer has seen it filled and toads happily splashing around on past visits to the high school.

Even with the ventilation system blasting loudly, the back gym, part of the old building, had an unpleasant odor. Water satins along the walls and in the ceiling tiles were obvious.

Once the tour reached the auditorium, where panel 15 was remediated at a cost of $3 million, maintenance men who accompanied the tour didn't seem to want to turn the lights on. Teacher Union Steward Karen Shenkman told the tour-group that although repair work had been completed many teachers could not spend more than a minute in the room without experiencing respiratory complications.

The contingent stumbled up the steps in the dark into the auditorium. Only after repeated requests were lights turned on and then only the peripheral lights were lit.

Seymour contractor Bob Rich had brought along his flashlight. And as the group progressed down the sloping aisle toward the stage, it began to notice that the cove base (molding) was buckling from the moisture inside the damp walls. This was noted on both side of the room.

When pulled back, the wallboard behind the molding revealed massive areas of crumbling. Some sections were large enough to put a human hand into the areas crumbling.

Goldblatt said he is surprised the problems still exist.

"I am disturbed that there still seems to be a perceivable problem that has not been fully addressed," he said.

When asked about the sagging ceiling tiles, buckling molding in the auditorium Goldblatt didn't hold back.

"The auditorium in particular has me surprised and quite frankly disturbed that areas of obvious moisture infiltration are still evident months after we have been reassured there is no current problem," Goldblatt said.

Crisco said that every benefit of the doubt has been given to Amity and he is trying to understand it all. He said that during the tour and following it he experienced some sensitivity.

"I had problems going in some of those rooms, my sinuses were definitely affected." He admits to being sensitive to odors.

State Rep. Themis Klarides R-114 also experienced some respiratory problems similar to Crisco.

"I did feel some sinus-type discomfort during the tour."

"Obviously there's a problem that never should have happened," Klarides said adding that if people felt there had been open ongoing communication between the school and the taxpayers, the issue would be better understood.

Crisco and Klarides said they have high hope for the new Board of Education Chairman Michael Lohne.

"Hopefully with Michael's cooperation this problem can be resolved."

Goldblatt brought up the forthcoming referendum to add to the size of the building.

"I'm concerned about moving forward with a new building project before this problem is resolved."

First Selectman Craig Stahl (Bethany) who joined the tour half way through concurred with Crisco and Klarides that there were "obvious signs of water leakage." He also believes that the Amity Board of Education is where the leadership should come from on the matter

"It's up to the Board of Education to come up with a solution," Stahl said.

Wenner, who did not participate in the tour, said the BOE relies on "authority" for guidance.

"We rely on the experts not people taking tours to tell us what work needs to be done," Wenner said.

When asked about the crumbling walls in the auditorium, he said it was not a "big project."

"The separation where the molding is, I don't think it has affected anything structurally," Wenner said.

And the open pit outside room 374. Wenner said he was not "not that familiar" with it adding that if it was something he should be concerned about he would know about it. He added that it was part of the on-going litigation.

Wenner is adamant that whatever remediation has been recommended has been instituted.

"Everything recommended to us has been implemented. We've taken steps to address all the issues. We've done many air quality tests, the Quinnipiack Valley Health District wants our HVAC system adjusted and we are working on that now," Wenner said.

Wenner did say that he would look into the open pit and auditorium problems in greater detail.

A represenative of the school explains the open pit outside room 374.

"The hole was dug by the District to find out why the roof drains were backing up on the rear of the roof. What was found was that the roof drains were not connected as they were supposed to be. We left the hole open partly because it helps with the drainage and we have included this issue as part of our claim against the contractor (Atlas Construction Company) and the surety."

At the conclusion of the tour, Rich commented, "There is an obvious water penetration problem. And this should be dealt with if for no other reason than building maintenance."