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Asbestos investigation to begin soon

Janet Urquhart

As a new round of testing for asbestos contamination at the Yellow Brick School was initiated Thursday, the Aspen Skiing Co. stepped up to help house displaced day-care programs.

City officials announced Wednesday that workmen installing a new boiler at the school apparently spread asbestos within the building, which now houses several preschool programs and a couple of offices.

An investigation into the incident has been promised.

While the city works with state health officials and private consultants to determine the extent of the contamination, the Aspen Recreation Department scrambled yesterday to find new quarters for the various preschool operations that call the Yellow Brick home.

The Skico, which operates its own Kids Club day-care program in the North Garmisch Street building, has offered to house the Early Learning Center at its children’s facilities in Snowmass Village. The Kids Club will also relocate to Snowmass.

Mare’s Play Group, which had also operated at the Yellow Brick, will move temporarily to Bump’s Restaurant at the base of Buttermilk, according to Tim Anderson, city recreation director.

“I can’t thank the ski company enough,” he said. “That was our big concern with these child-care programs – where we were going to put them all.”

The small Waldorf School class at the Yellow Brick will be run out of a private residence until the school building is reopened for use.

The Community Office for Resource Efficiency and the Aspen Gay and Lesbian Community Fund also have offices in the school.

The city will arrange to bus children and teachers to and from the temporary quarters from a park in town, starting Tuesday when the preschool programs resume, Anderson said. In addition, city crews will move some small playground equipment from the Yellow Brick to Bumps and to Snowmass, he said.

The temporary arrangement is expected to continue for about two weeks while cleanup takes place at the city-owned school building.

The school was closed to all its users this week to allow certified workers to remove an ancient, asbestos-encased boiler and heating ducts from the basement.

On Monday, the crew discovered one section of asbestos-covered pipe had already been removed. The protective covering had been broken open, and the asbestos insulation was lying on the floor.

At that point, the building was shut down, the boiler room was sealed off and testing began immediately, according to city officials.

Initial testing was conducted to determine whether the building had been contaminated with the fibers, which can cause health problems when they are inhaled. The tests revealed asbestos in the main-floor carpeting. No airborne fibers were detected in the main part of the building in the initial testing.

Additional samples were collected yesterday that will indicate how much contamination has occurred and where.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will oversee the cleanup at the school and work with the city to determine who caused the contamination.

“My first priority is getting the school resecured – by that I mean cleaned, decontaminated and released for occupancy,” said Curtis Burns, environmental protection specialist with the state agency. “We’ll make sure the cleanup is done in accordance with our regulations. My office will have the final say-so.”

There has been no discussion of punitive fines for the incident, Burns said, but the state will investigate who is to blame. Burns said his office wants to know how, why and when the release of the asbestos occurred.

According to City Manager Steve Barwick, the contamination did not occur before July 5. The work in the boiler room was part of an ongoing renovation of the school building, which dates back to the 1960s.

The city, too, is anxious to know who is responsible for the incident, said Asset Manager Ed Sadler.

“We’ve got to find out who’s responsible and when it happened. We don’t think this is something the city should have to pay for,” he said.

Various subcontractors have been at work in the building during the remodeling, Sadler said. He said he does not yet know how much the testing and cleanup will end up costing.

City officials began calling the parents of children who use the school on Wednesday night to explain what happened.

Most were “pretty cool with it,” Sadler said. “They appreciated us telling them.”

Burns, however, said his phone started ringing yesterday as concerned parents sought out information.

“The calls are beginning to roll in,” he said. “Since this morning, I’ve probably received six calls.”

Some parents are worried about the potential health effects that could result from the exposure, Burns said.

He said he is advising parents to be concerned but not get carried away.

There is no acute or immediate response to asbestos exposure and, 20 years from now, it would be difficult to link a respiratory problem to a particular exposure to asbestos as a child, according to Burns.

“No one knows the amount of exposure time before it causes problems,” he said. “All the information we have is based on worker experience – high quantities over long periods of time.”


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