UPDATE: Ceiling Tiles Did Not Contain Asbestos
● By Rebecca K. Abma
Ceiling tiles that collapsed Wednesday in classroom 54 were scheduled to be repaired as part of the $15.3 million referendum that was defeated last December. According to district officials, a preliminary investigation indicates the tiles are original to the building and may have fallen due to age. The school was built in 1957.
In an eBlast sent to parents Thursday, School Superintendent Dr. Marie Cirasella reported they are investigating classrooms throughout the district that have similar ceilings, fortifying any that show any sign of damage, and developing a plan to replace all of them with drop ceilings.
Due to the building's age, the 12-by-12 inch tiles that were stapled to cross boards may contain asbestos, a popular fireproof building material at the time that was later linked to lung cancer in individuals with prolonged exposure to airborne particles.
"Ceiling tile samples have been sent out for testing," Dr. Cirasella told Midland Park Press. "We expect written confirmation with regard to the presence of asbestos tomorrow and will communicate this information."
The ceilings along with lighting in rooms 54 and 54B will be replaced as soon as possible, she said. A plan to replace all of the similar ceilings will be discussed among the board. "The board will continue to discuss options, which may include a referendum," she said.
Last December, voters rejected a two-part referendum to fix the aging facilities. A group of six residents, calling themselves the Midland Park Taxpayers Alliance, mobilized a successful anti-referendum campaign, using robo-calls and Vote No signs.
"Maintenance should not be an emergency," Group spokesperson Peter Jeffer told the Suburban News at the time. "Why weren’t the problems anticipated and planned for?"
The $15.3 million two-part question was defeated 1,097 to 617 for the first question of $12.2 million and 1,130 to 487 for an additional $3.1 million.
In response to the failed referendum, a group of parents calling themselves the Community Alliance of Midland Park (CAMP) formed to support the schools.
When the district put a second question on the April ballot to repair the roofs, CAMP launched a successful effort to get the roof-repairs passed using the question, "Who Will Stop The Rain?" Supporters posted umbrellas along with "Vote Yes for Our Schools" and handmade lawn signs. The measure passed 1,009 to 570.
According to district officials, the roof repairs at the high school are complete, with the exception of some minor flashing repairs that are still being completed.
In regard to Wednesday's incident, Dr. Cirasella emphasized that the "ceilings are intact, but a number of ceiling tiles did fall in one room at MPHS and no one was injured." (Emphasis hers) No further incidents have occurred.
The district intends to keep parents informed through eBlasts. (Register for district eBlasts here.) Here's today's unedited message from Dr. Cirasella :
While the incident of falling ceiling tiles in Room 54 at MPHS yesterday is a matter of great concern, it is very important to communicate factually accurate information as we seek to remedy this unexpected incident. Please be assured the district is conducting swift follow-up measures to remediate and identify any additional problems. We will continue to advise the community via daily eblasts as new information is learned. Here is an update with regard to the district response as of this date:
· To recap, we had one incident occurring in Room 54 at MPHS yesterday afternoon in which approximately 25% of interlocked ceiling tiles fell during classroom instruction—neither any student or staff member was injured.
· As of noon today, there have been no further incidents of falling ceiling tiles at MPHS.
· On-site investigations by the architect and district staff indicate this appears to be an isolated incident which could not have been predicted and occurred without warning.
· Room 54B, adjacent to Room 54, has also been closed and students temporarily relocated due to a small bowed area in the ceiling in the corner of the room.
· District staff is conducting an investigation of all rooms with similar ceiling tiles at MPHS, as well as at Godwin and Highland Schools.
· Any ceilings determined to have minor issues will be proactively re-secured with pine board and/or other means.
· All proper analysis and investigative procedures are being followed.
· A plan/timeline to install new dropped ceilings and lighting will be identified and implemented following the removal of the old ceilings.We appreciate the concern of our students, staff, parents/guardians, and community members and hope you will contact the MPHS or district office with any questions. Thank you.