SHAFTSBURY — The Shaftsbury School Board and principal on Wednesday responded to concerns about transparency and student safety after elevated levels of carbon dioxide were detected at the school in April.
The concerns were raised after the board discussed the readings at a special meeting on May 25. CO2 detectors had been installed at the school to test the air filtration system, to see if it would need to be replaced as part of the roof replacement project the school district is undertaking over the summer. According to email correspondence between Marcus Jones of Efficiency Vermont, who analyzed the results of the tests, engineering contractor Jim Secor, who is working with the school on the project, and principal Jeff Johnson, elevated levels of CO2 were detected. Jones said the data showed a clear need to address ventilation at the school, writing, "The meters were both maxed out at 2,500 (parts per million), which is well above the normal control level of 1,000-1,200 ppm."
For the sake of the public, which had a considerable presence at Wednesday's meeting, Johnson explained his view of the situation: "The conversation started in early April, when Jay (Coonradt, the school's maintenance foreman) and Jim Secor started looking at the roof. One of the things that came up was our old ventilation shafts, and they discussed if we wanted to keep them, or not keep them, with the new roof coming in." He said the old system was loud and inefficient.
Community member Jared Della Rocca asked why the topic had not been brought up at the board's regular May meeting, as the email from Efficiency Vermont had been sent on April 28. Johnson said he had not yet had an opportunity to meet with Secor to discuss the results at that time.
Superintendent Jim Culkeen said the Vermont Department of Health has reached out to the school in recent weeks to ensure that the situation is being handled appropriately. Culkeen said he laid out the district's plan moving forward, and said "they were fine with it." It was also reported that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had received an anonymous complaint against the school, alleging a hazardous work environment due to the CO2. OSHA defines dangerous levels of CO2 as 5,000 ppm over a 40 hour work week. Culkeen said the district is cooperating with that investigation, and has detailed its plans to lower the CO2 levels.
Michelle Reddinger, of the Department of Health, sent the following correspondence to Secor, which board Chairman Fran Kinney shared at the meeting: "The levels detected at the school, 2,500 ppm and lower, are undoubtedly a concern for indoor air quality, but not an immediate danger to the life or health of the students and staff. It sounds like there is already a plan in place to correct this issue by replacing the roof vents this summer. It would be my recommendation to make sure those changes do take place this summer, and retest for carbon dioxide levels after construction has been completed."
Members of the public were also concerned about reports that Secor had encouraged the board to omit the details of the testing from the minutes of the May 25 meeting. Kinney read a letter from board member Dave Durfee, who was unable to attend Wednesday's meeting, and said, "For the record, I would vote to amend the minutes of the May 25th meeting to include a mention of the email correspondence that referenced the CO2 measurements. Given the sensitivity of this as a safety issue, I think it was a mistake not to challenge Jim Secor's suggestion to exclude that from the minutes, though I understand he was well intentioned." The board did amend the minutes as such.
"It wasn't any board member," said Kinney, "I don't want people to perceive the board as trying to hide anything. I want to make sure that people realize, this board is never going to try and hide anything."
The Shaftsbury Select Board meets the first and third Monday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at Cole Hall on Buck Hill Road in Shaftsbury. Full recordings of the meetings are available on Catamount Access Television, and on the station's YouTube page.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.