Warwick school to test air quality following complaints of illness

News

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Kelly Powers has a resealable baggie full of pills, creams and inhalers. They’re not for her, but for her teenage daughter, a seventh grader at Warwick Veterans Junior High School.

Powers said her daughter didn’t need the medication until she started classes at the school, which re-opened as a junior high school last fall as part of the city’s school consolidation program. It was originally constructed in 1955 as a high school.

Powers and other parents of the middle school students now roaming the halls at Vets believe the school’s aging interior is causing widespread health problems among the student body.

“Headaches, nauseousness, dizziness,” said Powers, listing off her daughter’s symptoms. “She always has sinuses that do not clear up.”

Fellow parent Lisa Gonzalez said her daughter has missed multiple days of school, complaining of migraines and fatigue.

“Recently she was sent home from school because she was coughing up blood,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez and Powers said they want proof from the school department that the air quality in their daughters’ classrooms isn’t contributing to their ailments.

Earlier in January, Philip Ricchiuti, the environmental/safety coordinator of the Warwick Public Schools Department of Buildings and Ground, conducted a room inspection of classrooms where teachers complained of mold, odors and poor air quality.

The reports say Ricchiuti “did not observe mold” in any classroom, but he did recommend that several teachers keep their classroom’s “doors and windows open during occupancy.”

Parents like Powers believe the recommendation to get fresh air into the classrooms means the air quality is poor, but Warwick Schools Superintendent Philip Thornton said that’s not the case.

“We have a professional air quality expert on our team who is following all federal and state guidelines,” Thornton told Eyewitness News in a statement. “We meet all federal and state air quality measures.”

Still, Thornton said officials will be conducting air quality testing in the coming weeks “to satisfy the curiosity of some of the staff and parents.” Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian said a request for proposals (RFP) to conduct the air quality testing is on the School Committee’s Feb. 7 agenda.

Officials at the R.I. Department of Health told Eyewitness News they had been contacted by a parent concerned about the air quality at the school and would conduct a walk-through on Monday.

Eyewitness News requested a tour of the classrooms identified in the room inspection report, but the school department denied the request.

The room report also addressed teacher complaints about the heating and ventilation systems. In the report, Ricchiuti said ventilation systems in the bathrooms weren’t working and “odors are migrating out of the lavs into the hallway.”

In a statement regarding the complaints and concerns about ventilation, Avedisian said the 62-year-old heating system at Vets is in “dire need of repair.”

“We all know that the building needs renovations,” Avedisian said. “We are working on them as quickly as possible and ask for everyone’s patience as we continue to address them.”

Both Avedisian and Thornton said there was miscommunication with teachers regarding the recommendation to open windows to alleviate odors and improve the flow of air – parents took to social media to say some of their children were cold in classrooms with windows wide open, and some students had asked to bring blankets to school.

“In regards to the on-going confusion about windows being opened versus being ‘cracked’ – when Mr. Ricchiuti was asked how best to clear the air his recommendation was to open a window 1 inch, when needed, to let the air circulate,” Avedisian said.

“After the room was fully vented, his recommendation was to close the window,” he continued. “During this process, the heat has been continuously maintained so students would not be subject to unnecessary coolness.”

The reports provided to Eyewitness News did not specify how wide the windows should be opened.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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