PAWTUCKET – The Samuel Slater Junior High School will be closed for two days on Monday and Tuesday while workers remove a section of ceiling containing asbestos from the Mineral Spring Avenue facility.
According to school officials, workers demolishing a ceiling in the boys’ locker room found a second ceiling underneath that tested positive for asbestos.
“When they ripped the ceiling down there was an older ceiling underneath that had some asbestos,” said Pawtucket School Committee Chairman Alan Tenreiro.
Tenreiro said a decision was made to close the schools because the asbestos work cannot be done during the weekend. Tenreiro said even though it would have been safe for people to be in the building during the removal process, school officials wanted to err on the side of caution.
“We felt it would be prudent and easier to just close the school for a couple of days,” he said. “It’s not a good situation, but safety is paramount when it comes to our students.”
Tenreiro said he fully expects the school to re-open on Wednesday, Oct. 2, pending the results of air quality tests.
“So far, this company has met all its deadlines, so we’re confident the school will reopen on Oct. 2,” he said.
In the meantime, air quality tests conducted recently inside the locker room have come back negative.
Tenreiro said similar ceiling asbestos abatement will also have to be done at Shea High, but because there was some disruption of the hidden ceiling at Slater, a decision was made to start work there first.
Asbestos is a group of minerals that generally look like separable, long, thin fibers. These fibers are small and can be seen with a microscope. When these fibers are disturbed, causing the fibers to float in the air, they can be easily breathed into the lungs. Scientists have recognized asbestos as a health threat to humans because these fibers can be breathed into the lungs and can cause cancer and other lung diseases.
Asbestos was used as a spray-on material in the construction of school ceilings, primarily during the 1950s through early 1970s, because of its acoustical, fire-proofing and decorative qualities. Such dried materials can, over time, become friable; this process is dramatically speeded up by any external factors that disrupt the structural integrity of the ceiling material. Friable asbestos often flakes off as a fine dust that settles on surfaces but is readily re-suspended in classroom air.
The school district has been grappling with ceiling problems at many of its aging schools.
Last spring, engineers with Edward Rowse Architects conducted a ceiling inspection at six of the city’s school buildings after a ceiling in a basement classroom let loose at Potter-Burns. In May, problematic plaster ceilings at Potter-Burns and Nathanael Greene elementary schools were either removed or reinforced so students could safely get through the rest of the school year.
The inspection turned up concerns about ceilings in other classrooms at Potter-Burns, built in 1914, and at Nathanael Greene, constructed in 1918. Both schools had original ceilings crafted in the plaster-over-gypsum board style of that era. At Greene, many classrooms have “drop ceilings” that were installed in later years beneath the original. However, inspectors checking above the drop ceilings found that in several rooms, the old ceiling layer had pulled away from the joists, similar to the situation at Potter-Burns, and some were being held up by pipes and other substructure that had been run underneath.
The other older schools checked by the architects, Goff Junior High, Slater Junior High, Shea High and Tolman High, were found to have a different ceiling construction than Potter-Burns and Greene. However, engineers said the inspection turned up some concerns about damaged or potentially unsafe ceilings in some isolated rooms at Slater, Goff and Shea, including in the Goff and Shea gymnasiums and in the Shea pool area.