Northport Middle School, which has been closed since January, has been deemed safe to reopen, according to an environmental firm’s report released last week.
P.W. Grosser Consulting, a Bohemia-based environmental firm hired by the district, detailed that following its investigation it found no environmental concern that would render the middle school “unsafe to occupy”.
“While several items of concern were identified during the investigation, each is addressable and does not require the school to be closed to implement,” the firm stated in its nearly 7,000-page report.
District officials have planned a virtual forum for Thursday, June 25, at 7 p.m. to further discuss the report’s findings with parents and community members. Previously, in March, Robert Banzer, superintendent of schools, said that the district would consider reopening the school after review of the firm’s finding and remediation work.
Banzer could not be reached for comment before press time.
Among the firm’s findings included poorly set manholes that resulted in sewage odor escaping from the system, detection of carbon monoxide in one wing of the building while buses were exiting in the morning, low levels of benzene found in an art room and levels of arsenic discovered at the school’s track. In addition, PWGC detected a “burnt” smell in room N-103, the cause being a rubbing belt inside a vent.
The firm also found “evidence of rotting organic matter, likely from nearby trees,” that was found on roof drains, according to the report. PWGC recommended having drains sanitized and cleaned, adding that once cleaning had been done it noticed “a reduction or elimination of musty odors within the building.”
The status of the middle school has been a divisive topic in the community. Some want the school to remain closed, while others believe the school shouldn’t have been closed to begin with.
Rich Rowehl, a Northport parent of a seventh-grader in the district, said he is glad the firm’s report is done.
“I’m interested to hear what district officials and the consultants say about the findings at the virtual forum,” he said. “Then we’ll go from there, but it’s good to hear that the school is safe.”
Rowehl said he hopes the forum will be able to address any other concerns parents may still have and discuss ways the district will handle any lingering issues and areas of concerns from the report.
The firm could not find the cause for odors in rooms K-74 and K-75. In its report it stated that it believed that the furniture — benches and wood cabinetry — was the likely source of the odors.
“There are still some questions to be answered, though if the school is deemed safe then there could be a possibility that the students can return in September,” Rowehl said. “I’m hoping the report satisfies the community and that there is a sense of closure at the end of this.”
The district has already moved forward with some of the remediation work. It has relocated buses and bus depots off school grounds to another location in the village and is repairing the surrounding septic systems. There are plans to fix existing roof drains and other ceiling deficiencies as well as addressing the arsenic at the school track.
In a five-month span, P.W. Grosser tested inside of the school and the surrounding grounds, following foul odor complaints from students and staff members. In December 2019, students were relocated to another wing of the school due to the offensive smells. At the start of this year, the environmental firm detected elevated levels of mercury in cesspools outside the building, as well as high levels of benzene in two septic tanks. As a result, middle school students were transferred to other buildings throughout the district in mid-January for the remainder of the school year.