Cedarbrook Middle School may close from mold problems

Posted: October 13, 2013

CHELTENHAM The Cheltenham School District could abandon Cedarbrook Middle School as early as January because of mold, officials said Friday.

By Monday, the problem will have closed 11 classrooms and the cafeteria at the school in Wyncote, where 700 students attend seventh and eighth grades.

The district is considering four options to address the issue, three of which involve moving students to another location while a new school is built. The fourth option is to refurbish the 62-classroom school 10 rooms at a time.

"Either way, we're going to have to pay," said Lisa Chirico, who has seventh-grade triplets. "It's just a question of how much."

Rehabbing the 43-year-old building would cost $26.8 million, district officials said. Building a school would take three years and more than $50 million, plus the cost of modular classrooms or renting space during construction.

The students also could be sent to the high school, requiring split schedules. Cedarbrook students would attend from 1:30 to 8:30 p.m.

The district is presenting the options to parents at meetings, and the board will hold a hearing Oct. 22, district spokeswoman Susan O'Grady said.

She said the district could move Cedarbrook students as quickly as January, but stressed that they would stay together.

Mold from the heating and air-conditioning system first was discovered in 2003. It was found again in July, delaying the start of the school year and costing the district more than $500,000 so far.

Chirico said the district should have fully addressed the problem 10 years ago. She added that none of the options appealed to her, particularly the one that would keep her daughters in class until 8:30.

"We have top teachers and fabulous students who go on to be very successful," Chirico said. "But somehow, they make it through these broken schools."

Another parent, Dorrie Schenkel, said the best option was to build a new school, even if that means her daughter would learn in modular classrooms.

"As long as they're in a safe place and we can keep the teachers and the programs and the spirit of the school, we'll be fine," she said.

Federal and state agencies do not track schools that have mold problems or have closed because of them, said Claire Barnett, executive director of Healthy Schools Network, a nonprofit that monitors school-building issues.

"It's not shocking," she said. "We probably hear of several every year."




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