GRPS explains North Park school asbestos risk to parents

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids Public Schools officials and more than 200 parents met Saturday over concerns of asbestos at an elementary school. 

For about six weeks, construction crews have been doing work on the North Park Montessori School’s air conditioning system. On Friday, the team told Grand Rapids Public Schools that the plaster they drilled into may contain asbestos.

During a Saturday meeting to discuss the situation, GRPS spokesperson John Helmholt told parents that officials first thought the exposure happened in January. After further investigation, they realized it may have happened as early as November 2018.

GRPS hired an environmental firm that conducted testing before the construction project started in November. The firm knew there was some potential asbestos in the building, which was built in 1924.

“We were in the building, we collected those samples and we reported our results as we were contracted to do. The report was correct and given to the right channels … I can’t tell you what happened after that,” Chris Decker of Micro Air Consulting said.

It’s unclear if any students or staff members were actually exposed to asbestos. The first air quality report is expected back early this week.

The North Park Montessori building will remain closed until further notice. Classes have been canceled for Monday and Tuesday.

More than 300 students in first through eighth grades will return to class Wednesday, but they’ll do it in classrooms at GRPS University on Fuller Avenue, about three miles from their home building.

The district will send out information Monday and Tuesday about transportation, drop-off and pick-up, food service, student medication, and after-school programs. An open house is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday at GRPS University so parents and students can see what the school is like.

Some frustrated parents call the situation “careless.”

“I really wish they would have come forward a long time ago,” said Marie-Claire Camp, a mother of twins at North Park. “They knew that there was asbestos in our school and even one of the GRPS officials said that there is asbestos in almost every GRPS school. And the fact that they did construction with our kids there is just ridiculous. It’s negligent.”

Parents who still have questions were encouraged to email communications@grps.org or call 616.819.2149.

The nearby Wellerwood building is not being affected. It will be open Monday and Tuesday as usual.

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