Investigations into a strong, noxious odor in classrooms at Saugerties High School have not turned up a cause or a solution, Saugerties school board vice-president Thomas Ham said Tuesday. Attempts to track the sulfurous smells have been unsuccessful, Ham conceded at the board’s regular meeting on Tuesday December 13.

“We met with the science department and Mr. Reynolds [Saugerties Teachers Association president Patrick Reynolds] last week and brainstormed ideas around with Mr. O’Rourke and the industrial hygienist from BOCES,” Ham reported, “and the bottom line is that Jeremy and Randy Ricks [school maintenance workers] have tried a number of things, and really went to the wall trying to resolve this issue, and the problem still remains a mystery.”

The issue was raised at the November meeting by Reynolds as a working conditions issue. At the time, Reynolds described the conditions: “When the odor is at its worst, students and staff complain of burning eyes, headaches and nausea.”

Reynolds asked the administration to identify “the type and source of the material causing the odor, to seek the advice of an engineer for solutions.” Over the past month, school personnel have searched for the cause of the odor and possible solutions, Ham said. The problem is most pronounced in the science wing, he said, but other areas of the school are affected as well.

Some things are now known, Ham said. “It seems to occur when there’s low pressure and the temperature is in a certain range – cool, not cold, not warm. As soon as the air gets real cold, like it is now, the problem goes away. It seems that the exhaust gases are going into the atmosphere rather than hanging on the roof. The general consensus is that it is probably an exhaust gas, although initial testing hasn’t proven that out. It seems the instruments aren’t as sensitive as the nose, and it really can’t be defined well.”

O’Rourke has advised the district to stop running tests, as that was only “basically throwing darts.” Said he, “You cannot continue to run tests, and guess at what to test for and still not have a conclusion, especially when the problem is as intermittent as it is.”

The next step would be to bring in a mechanical engineer, preferably one with experience with similar problems. “At least at this point we know what it’s not, and perhaps that helps,” said Ham. The odor seems to range from a very faint whiff to obnoxious, he said, “and something needs to get done.”

Board member Teresa Bach-Tucker suggested that a properly placed exhaust fan might help to alleviate the problem. Ham responded that solutions involving moving the air away from the classrooms using fans and vents had helped somewhat.

An engineer will come in from outside and take a fresh look at the problem, Ham summed up, because “our guys have run out of ideas, which is pretty significant because they are a resourceful bunch, and when they come up empty it’s a concern.”

Advanced college placement

Saugerties High School students looking for careers in the home economics or hospitality fields can begin earning college credits in those fields while still in high school through a new program in the home economics department.

Through an agreement with SUNY Cobleskill arranged by home economics teacher Donna Donaldson, students who take four home and careers, family or culinary arts courses and have an 85 average offered are automatically accepted into the culinary arts or hospitality program at the college, superintendent Seth Turner announced at the school board meeting.

In addition, students can earn up to eight college credits – nearly a full semester – Donaldson said.

Teachers volunteer

Saugerties teachers have volunteered at numerous public functions, Saugerties Teachers Association public relations committee chair Cyn Kendall said at last week’s Saugerties school board meeting. The committee organizes teachers to work at various community functions and do fundraising activities at their schools.

Among the activities Saugerties teachers have included the demonstration of colonial crafts at the Saugerties 200th anniversary celebration, face-painting at the famed Garlic Festival, helping children make holiday cards and bookmarks at Inquiring Minds Bookstore during the recent Christmas in the Village festival, and donating to “dress down” on Fridays. Last year, the STA raised $4447 to donate to local charities through the dress-down days, Kendall said.

This September and October, teachers collected $500 for relief to local people affected by Hurricane Katrina and donated the money to the Phoenicia Rotary Club. In addition the organization raised $465 for families in Saugerties whose homes were damaged and who did not have flood insurance, Kendall said.

The STA has also contributed $471 to the Council of Churches’ for holiday gifts and donated to the Saugerties Food Pantry.

Cahill roof repair

The Cahill Elementary School roof is failing, and will need to be replaced, but the school district’s maintenance department may have found a way to save money on the job.

At its December 13 meeting, the school board approved emergency replacement, at an estimated cost of $274,000. The district has $120,317 remaining in its capital project fund, and the school district has allocated $100,000 toward necessary roof repairs, according to the resolution approved at the board meeting.

Declaring the roof repair an emergency speeds up the process of awarding contracts and getting the work done. It allows the school district to bypass laws requiring competitive bidding.

Prior to the vote, school board vice-president Thomas Ham said the district’s maintenance workers had evaluated the maintenance plans for the roof and came up with substantial savings.

“Some of the means of fastening the roof weren’t acceptable to our maintenance people, so between our maintenance guys doing some of the work and changing over the fastening system to something they deem to be more sound because they’ve been using them in other buildings with great success, we’ll be saving about $28,000,” Ham said.

Gas may replace oil

Oil tanks at two schools, Grant E. Morse and Mount Marion, need to be replaced. But the replacement for one may not be an oil tank. Vice-president Thomas Ham said. “At Mount Marion we had an issue with an above-ground tank because you have that stream running across the street, so this thing was going to be out in the open.”

The tank at Mount Marion may be replaced with a propane gas tank instead.

The installation would save about $9000 because the burners are already configured for propane and the tanks could be buried without risking long-term environmental problems.

“The real long-term savings will be that there is less maintenance with propane or natural gas than there is with oil,” Ham said. The oil filter needs to be changed once a month, and the efficiency of the burner drops by about five percent over the month a problem that won’t occur with propane. The propane can also be used to meet the school’s hot water needs, a further saving. Though the cost of fuel is very nearly the same, Hamm said, the savings in maintenance will be substantial. With a smaller maintenance staff and aging buildings, “it’s good if we can take some pressure off those guys,” Ham said.

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