Asbestos abatement is always a job for professionals, but in this case mishandled asbestos removal temporarily closed the Lafayette Academy’s Uptown New Orleans location.
There is much finger-pointing in this situation which began in 2017 when the Recovery School District (RSD), run by the state, began renovations of the school as part of the School Facilities Master Plan for Orleans Parish.
The 2017 mishandled asbestos removal
The Lafayette School asbestos removal and renovations began in 2017 with the building’s third floor. While abatement was to begin in May 2017 after students were dismissed for the summer, it has come to light that it began as early as March 2017 while students were in the building – some students even in the asbestos containment areas. Though the RSD claimed, “all environmental laws and regulations regarding hazardous materials were followed,” an inspector wrote in a state report that containment areas were unsecured, students walked the halls in the area, and at least one student peaked into the containment area. The inspector also found the project supervisor falsified his asbestos removal certification and there were boot prints in and out of containment areas which showed workers could easily track asbestos into the halls. The inspector also found an empty classroom was used to store improperly labeled and wrapped asbestos.
In spite of this, the RSD when notified didn’t stop the abatement activities or evacuate the building. However, some scheduling changes were made, such as limiting work hours so that removal was only after school dismissal. The RSD cited air quality tests that showed the air was safe on the day of the 2017 inspection and that their actions were approved by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ).
The charter school is run by the Choice Foundation. The CEO of the charter school said there was no notification to him or his staff about the specific issues cited in the report, though he did know some changes had been made. Parents, however, say they should have been informed. One concerned parent said, “For you to get on the news and say that the children were not in school while construction was taking place – that’s a total lie!” As recently as July 13, 2018, RSD chief facilities officer, Ronald Bordelon, stated that the 2017 asbestos removal was “properly completed” before the students returned in August of 2017.
The 2018 mishandled asbestos removal
Asbestos removal resumed in May of 2018 on the first and second floors of the Lafayette School campus on Carrollton Avenue. An LDEQ inspector noted on June 14, 2018 that asbestos was found on the flooring and insulation of the second floor and that holes were in the plastic material that stops asbestos fibers from releasing into other areas during removal, that workers walked in and out of the containment area without changing clothing – even walking around the campus and eating lunch with no clothes change. It is known that asbestos fibers can attach to clothing and be spread to other people, or furniture, which exposes others to inhalation of the deadly fibers.
On July 16th the Choice Foundation was informed by RSD that the contractor failed to follow protocol for asbestos removal. Because the building and its contents may be contaminated, the school is closed until it can be completely cleaned and safe for occupancy. The Orleans Parish School Board was unaware of the 2017 LDEQ report until July 23, 2018. The school board stated, “The Recovery School District was, and still is, responsible for the management and oversight of the building’s renovation. The school board was not involved in the renovation process and therefore was not aware of the LDEQ’s report.”
The abatement company was Advanced Environmental Consulting (AEC) out of Baton Rouge. They were hired by the general contractor, Law Industries, also from Baton Rouge. Last week, Law dismissed AEC and the RSD dismissed Law.
This year, the students will be split between several locations until their school is once again a healthy environment. Some will be relocated to the McDonogh building on Kerlerec Street, some to the Paul Dunbar building. The Choice Foundation will make determinations on the locations for the various age groups.