Stephanie Hull is worried that Taft Middle School is making her kids sick.
Two of Hull’s six children attend the 84-year-old school, which has been undergoing renovation for nearly two years. She contends the activity is the source of their skin ailments.
“He started breaking out in huge welts and rashes,” she said of her 14-year-old son. “He complained about not being able to breathe.”
Within 45 minutes of leaving the school, at 2901 NW 23, “the rash goes away,” she said.
Although her son has battled asthma and allergies most of his life, Hull blames his rashes and swollen lungs on mold she said was uncovered during construction.
“It started when the bathrooms were gutted,” she said.
Oklahoma City School District officials said Taft is safe, despite complaints from teachers and staffers about ongoing dust, distractions and delays caused by the MAPS for Kids renovation project.
Oklahoma City Public Schools spokeswoman Tierney Tinnin said Friday the district has not received reports of any other students getting sick. An air quality inspection of Taft was completed for the district May 8 by Air & Earth Inc., of Oklahoma City.
“The air quality report shows negative for mold and the dust count is below the safe limits set by OSHA,” Tinnin said. “We’re doing our due diligence by completing the air quality samples, meeting with staff members and communicating with the parent that has the concern.”
MAPS construction manager Wayne Courville said the contractor is required to control dust “as best they can,” but “sometimes the contractor doesn’t clean up.”
“This is Oklahoma. We’re all exposed to dust on a fairly regular basis. You’re always going to have dust,” Courville said. “Our responsibility is to mitigate any dust filtration into the occupied space as much as possible and I think we do a pretty good job of that.”
Taft science teacher Eric Wheeler and building Superintendent Mike Harrison disagree.
Harrison said there’s “not so much as a box fan” to properly ventilate hallways and classrooms.
“There’s absolutely no ventilation,” he said.
Ventilation is questioned
Wheeler argues that poor ventilation is exposing students, teachers and other school workers to dust and fumes. Construction workers, he said, are drilling into concrete walls, sawing wood and sanding floors near classrooms full of students.
Hallways, he added, are often thick with dust that has triggered a “persistent, kind of deep cough.”
“They basically said the air quality was fine, but we’ve all been exposed to it multiple times over the past year,” Wheeler said Friday. “They shouldn’t be working when the kids are in school.”
Courville said he’s not aware of any rule prohibiting contractors from renovating the school building during the day.
“I’m not aware that’s ever been a requirement of the project,” he said. “That’s true of all the school projects ... contractors are allowed to work during the day when school’s in session.”
Construction delays kept the building closed for the first week of school in August. Administrative offices, the gymnasium and the auditorium were among the areas blocked off while workers completed renovations.
Issues continue to pop up, including an air conditioning problem that has lingered for two weeks, district and construction officials said.
“I don’t know that they’ve all been addressed but they’ve certainly been raised,” Oklahoma City School District interim Superintendent Dave Lopez said. “The MAPS people have been doing a good job of pursuing remedies when they’re needed.”
Taft teachers and staff met Monday night with Ian Wolfe, the district’s new safety director, to discuss concerns. Wolfe called the meeting “productive.”
“I was able to provide information on the air quality samples and provided them with an opportunity to voice any concerns,” Wolfe said. “I encouraged the staff to use the newly developed safety hotline to improve communication and to keep the district abreast of any future issues.”
Hull said she has been told by a district official that her son has a compromised immune system because of his existing condition and may be more sensitive to conditions stemming from ongoing renovations.
“He said if I didn’t like it I could transfer my son to another school,” she said.