Facilities director recommends replacing school roof
BY JANIE ROSMAN
An East Ramapo School District employee allegedly sought medical attention last Friday after tending to a mold-affected classroom at Ramapo High School, the Rockland County Times learned Friday afternoon via email.
“This past week, the condition of the upstairs 200 North hallway was unbearable (This) has this been going on for years, but it hasn’t made people feel ill, the email — written by a teacher and sent to a parent, who forwarded it to media — said.
Despite school principal Sherrill Murray-Lazarus telling staff to “report leaks promptly so that appropriate actions can be taken,” some teachers are afraid to publicly come forth about the persistent mold conditions that are causing nausea and headaches.
RHS senior Samantha Curry told this reporter that teachers whisper among themselves. “No one wants to get caught talking about it,” she said.
“Two days ago (January 27) it actually smelled like a dead body was in the building,” the teacher wrote. Custodians were dispatched to mop clean in the morning and evening with “some lemon-scented agent that temporarily masks the smell.”
After working in one of the affected classrooms Friday (January 29), a school maintenance worker “said he is allergic to mold and mildew and his throat was closing up. A few hours later he drove himself to the hospital,” the teacher wrote.
Murray-Lazarus’s email to school staff Friday afternoon said in part, “Today BOCES Safety and Health Technician Seth Armstrong and Facilities Director Al Perotti met at Ramapo HS to take a look at the leaking roof situation and to investigate the smell in the hallway near the 200 North classrooms.”
The principal said Perotti recommended the school “replace the roof, and if that isn’t possible, (then) remove all of the wet/stained ceiling tiles, ventilate the area with fans and open windows, (and) keep the buckets under the leaks and empty them often.”
However, the teacher “didn’t see anyone (Armstrong or Perotti) walking around, and I was there.”
“Kids were walking by the area fast, holding their shirts over their noses and pulling their hoods over their heads,” Curry said. “The smell gets worse as the day goes on, and by the afternoon it’s really bad.”
Teachers were told to close their doors and open their windows to air out the classrooms. Since it’s cold outside, and the rooms get cold, students were told to “wear layers.” Interim district superintendent Dr. Deborah L. Wortham — who visited RHS Monday as did Senator David Carlucci (D-Rockland/Westchester) and school monitor Dr. Monica George-Fields — spoke with this reporter Monday afternoon and reiterated what Murray-Lazarus told staff Friday.
“The people from BOCES were here today and on Friday, and they made the same recommendations as they did last year — replace the roof, remove the wet, stained ceiling tiles and ventilate the room, and keep buckets under the leak until the roof of the building is repaired,” Wortham said.
Voters turned down a bond referendum last year that would have let the district borrow more than $39 million for needed improvements. Wortham said while she was not in the district at the time “we know that our students deserve first-rate buildings. The school bond act would have addressed the failing school facilities throughout the district in a very comprehensive way.”
For now, its Band-Aid remedy is buckets to catch dripping water from leaks made worse by rain and recent Winter Storm Jonas.
“I reached out to Dr. Wortham and asked for a personal tour of the situation,” Carlucci told this reporter during a phone conversation Tuesday afternoon. “It’s an emergency situation, and if we don’t rectify it now, then it will get worse.”
The senator was in Albany to find the estimated $1 million needed to repair the RHS roof. “I’m working to access funding to make those emergency repairs. That’s where we are right now. We’re in a good situation in terms of this.”
Late Tuesday evening Carlucci learned $1 million in emergency funding will be secured through the State and Municipal Funding Program, administered and overseen by the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY). This funding allocation can only be applied to cover costs associated with repairing the high school roof to ensure the money is used effectively for its intended purpose.
While she cannot discuss specifics about the person who allegedly sought medical attention last Friday, Wortham said protocol has been established for policy and procedure in case someone falls ill during the school day. “Our nursing staff would call our health care professional, and people would seek immediate attention,” she said.
“The buckets are in one classroom where students do not have access,” George-Fields said. “There is air circulating and ventilation in that room, and the room next door that might have minimal leakage is not enough for a bucket situation.”
“Students rush by (in the hallway) and get a headache, and when they’re out of the area they feel better,” Curry said.
It’s unknown if or how many students, teachers and other personnel/district workers are allergic to mold or if anyone else who walked through mold-affected areas of the school needed medical attention. “There is an odor in the classrooms and in the hall where the leak is most egregious,” Carlucci said. “If it’s not addressed immediately, then there certainly will be mold.”
George-Fields noted the bucket surrounded by two ladders in the hallway “is not where students can walk it, and no students are in the classroom where the bucket is located. Water is not slashing on the floor.”
She said a “Do Not Enter” tape connects the ladders in the hallway; however, photos of the area sent to this reporter last Friday showed no tape as she described. “No child should be subjected to these conditions,” Carlucci, who has two young sons, said.
In September NYSED Director of Facilities Carl T. Thurnau and PE, and Perotti toured five East Ramapo district schools — Spring Valley High School, Chestnut Ridge Middle School, Kakiat Elementary School, Elmwood Elementary School and RHS.
Their visit confirmed “aging roofs that are leaking in several locations” and “no evidence that the roofs are creating an unsafe condition for occupants,” state education department spokesman Jonathan Burman said at the time.
Calls to Perotti were unreturned; Murray-Lazarus’s office directed calls to Wortham.