Cheltenham residents want moldy middle school razed

Posted: October 24, 2013

Cheltenham residents suggested Tuesday that the school district raze the township's moldy middle school and move Cedarbrook students to a new building.

"My option would be to take down that building," Elizabeth "Betty" Cataldi said to applause at a packed public meeting at the district's administration building.

Cataldi, 69, a former Cheltenham school board member, was one of nearly 100 people who listened to district officials mull over four potential contingency plans addressing the school's chronic mold issue.

Mold from the heating and air-conditioning system first was discovered in 2003 at Cedarbrook Middle School. It was found again in July, delaying the start of the school year and costing the district more than $600,000 so far, officials said.

"The only way you are going to get rid of the mold is to get rid of the school," said John Witherspoon. He said the mold problems at the school dated at least to the 1980s, when he said his daughter got sick from Cedarbrook mold.

Vivian Tyler Allen, who has a child in eighth grade at Cedarbrook, said the primary concern right now is the health of the students. "If we can move them now, move them now," she said.

One of the contingency options involves renovating the middle school 10 rooms at a time while students still attend the school. That plan would cost $26.3 million.

The three other proposals involve a new middle school, which would take three years to plan and build and would cost $52.4 million, according to the district.

Under one proposal, the district would spend $11 million on a 120,000-square-foot modular structure at Cedarbrook while a new school is built.

Another option calls for Cheltenham High School students to share space with middle school students at the high school on a split schedule until a new middle school is constructed. High school students would attend from 7 a.m. to 1:33 p.m. and middle school students from 1:20 to 8:30 p.m.

Under the final plan, Cedarbrook students would be sent to an undisclosed building outside Cheltenham at a three-year rental cost of $6 million while a new school gets built.

That building would be about a 10-minute drive from the administration building, in a municipality that is not Philadelphia, according to the district. School officials said they could not identify the site because negotiations were continuing.

The board took no formal action Tuesday night.

There is no deadline for implementation of a contingency plan, and the district has taken corrective action and is monitoring the situation, said Susan O'Grady, a district spokeswoman.

After the meeting, Wendy Lyles, the mother of a Cedarbrook student, said the plan to move students to a building outside the township while a new school gets built was the only "realistic" option.

"As a community, we have to come together and just do what's right for our children first," Lyles said.

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