At the annual back-to-school meeting, parents of Hereford High School students were offered a chance to question administrators and officials about the school's $14 million renovation that has caused complaints from students and faculty members.
"Our biggest question is why the work has to go on during school hours," said Earl Copenhaver, who attended last night's meeting with his wife, Debbie. Both said they were concerned for their son, Chris, 15, a freshman who will live with the northern Baltimore County school's four-year renovation for his entire high school career.
During the renovation of the 37-year-old school, classes will continue. County school officials say this is the first time classes have gone on in a school during such a massive remodeling.
The Copenhavers were among about 500 parents at Hereford last night. They sat on bleachers in the school gymnasium as they listened to officials and asked questions about the renovation.
Parents, students and teachers have expressed concern over fumes in classrooms and hallways, the result of roofing tar and the chemical solvent used to remove asbestos tile and adhesive from building floors this summer. Many faculty members and students have complained of headaches, sore throats, dizzy spells and nausea since the beginning of the school year.
At least two teachers temporarily have left Hereford because of the fumes, though both plan to return when the school's new portable classrooms are delivered in October.
At the meeting, principal Ray Gross said he received results from tests run by the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health agency, "and there are no ratings for toxicity" from either the solvent or the roof project.
Gross said he received results from tests run by the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health agency, "and there are no ratings for toxicity" from either the solvent or the roof project.
"Now, that does not mean it doesn't stink," he added. But while headaches and nausea may be experienced by a few, he said, the feeling is no more dangerous than that one might experience after painting a room at home.
"I believe the kids are safe," he said. "I would not be here if I didn't believe it was safe for me. I spend as much time here as anyone."
Gross stressed that he was not authorized to close school during unseasonably hot days when the fumes are the worst, nor would he be able to change the work schedule for the construction crews, who often work during school hours. He suggested that parents with concerns he could not address should contact school board member Alan Leberknight, who represents Hereford, or Keith Kelley, associate superintendent for the division of physical facilities.
Parents were offered an opportunity to direct questions to Kiki Geis, supervisor of environmental services, and Barry Pickelsimer, manager of the department of building maintenance. Both said they were sure cooler weather and the completion of the roof work, expected within the next two weeks, would decrease problems related to fumes.
In the meantime, Gross said, he would try to work with the parents of students who may experience problems during the renovation.
"We're learning as we go along," he said.
Some parents said they were satisfied by the information offered last night by officials and administrators, but others said they weren't happy about their children being the guinea pigs for a school system that never has remodeled a school completely while students and teachers are in the building.
"There was an alternative, but they don't want to spend the money, they don't want to build a new school," said Wayne Harrison, the father of a freshman and a senior at Hereford. "But what's the cost to the kids?"
"My child is getting sick because this is an experiment here," said Sandra Shortall, whose daughter, Lindsie, is a senior.
"Why can't they work like the state roads do, after hours?"
"I think the kids are going to get the short end of the stick," said Dave Clements, a social studies teacher and chairman of Hereford's faculty council.
"I'm hopeful it will get better. I'm anticipating that it will. But this is a four-year project . . . fumes have been an issue, and along the way I expect other things will become issues."