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Condition of Redfield school becomes point of dispute

Sorting through the differences between the two sides involved in the Redfield Middle School dispute involves reading scores of emails, letters, legal opinions and even chemical laboratory reports, with no real changes in resolving the disagreement.

The White Hall School District board has voted to close the Redfield school at the end of the current school year, consolidating the educational facility with White Hall Middle School at the start of the 2013-14 school term.

Keep Redfield Middle School, an ad hoc organization, seeks to keep the building and has voiced hopes of establishing an open-enrollment charter school.

“The facility at Redfield is both a historic WPA constructed school building from 1939, and has historic value,” wrote Todd Dobbins, the ad hoc group’s chairman, and “is in near mint condition.”

The district “acquired it from this community” and it remains the community’s “only community center,” Dobbins wrote recently. “It was in continual use this past weekend, along with numerous evenings. It is the only facility available to our youth, such as the youth athletic programs. Again it is the heart of our children’s activities. The heart of our community.”

The White Hall School Board “has a great deal of leeway on how to manage and dispose of school district property,” Dobbins was notified in a message dated Feb. 20 from the state Department of Education. “The Attorney General’s Office issued several legal opinions indicating that school districts cannot simply give away or donate school property without adequate consideration. … There may potentially be several options other than donation, so I would recommend that you explore any possible options with the White Hall superintendent, school board and their legal counsel.”

The tone changed from “in near mint condition” recently after some ad hoc organization members wrote of opening the “door to (the school) cellar that a draft has blown through for 40 years into the lunch room. We all got a bitter gritty taste in our mouths. Observed shingle cuttings, mold, and scrap insulation.

“Cellar was used to dispose of roofing that dates original thru 1972-73. Flooded with bulbs blown, mold and rotted timbers. They spent millions there (in White Hall) while our community was exposed to this.”

Recent concerns voiced by Save Redfield Middle School organization members about “rotten, moldy, and deplorable conditions” at the school have gained some traction, but may be unfounded when it comes to cited asbestos contamination, The Progress has learned.

Samples taken in late February and earlier this month by a three-member team from EMTEC-Engineering Management Corp., Little Rock, were submitted by the team to EMC Labs Inc., in Phoenix, for asbestos analysis by polarized light microscopy, based on a copy of the report obtained by The Progress.

Basically, the analysis detected asbestos levels of 3-5 percent in interior floor tile in six rooms and one portable building, and up to 15 percent in exterior asbestos siding on one portable building, according to the Arizona lab’s report.

Dobbins counters that the samples taken by EMTEC do not address the flooded cellar, leaking roof, lack of hot water in the bathrooms, and mold and asbestos issues. Asbestos was targeted in the examination and lab analysis, as noted in the report.

Dobbins calls conditions at the Redfield school “deplorable,” while Linda Banks, a group member, contends that extensive renovations must be made or the building demolished.

The EMTEC study contains “recommendations” that may address some issues raised by Dobbins’ group:

“Before any renovations, demolitions or repairs are performed to any building(s) and/or buildings, a thorough review of the asbestos documents along with confirmation may be required to establish the presence and extent of asbestos containing materials.

“All identified asbestos containing materials are considered to be in good condition and are recommended to continue to be maintained and addressed under the O&M (operations and maintenance) Program.”