Can you smell that smell? | AspenTimes.com

Can you smell that smell?

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen High School officials have enlisted environmental health specialists in their investigation of reported student illness caused by construction odors.

AHS and school district heads have petitioned two local physicians, numerous construction experts and several representatives of city, county and state health agencies in their investigation of the high school’s new building, AHS Principal Kendall Evans reported to the Aspen School Board on Monday. The study of the new building came about after a small number of complaints about construction odors that cause headaches and nausea, Evans said.

Miles Stotts, deputy director for Pitkin County Public Works, said he met with district officials last week to investigate the recently completed AHS addition.

“I’m not aware that there has been any medical diagnosis, but we’ve had a number of people who have said they have gotten headaches or had some effects from being around the site,” Stotts said.

Stotts said the district has done its best to address parent concerns.

“In the face of a number of complaints, the school district, the architect and the contractor worked very hard last week to eliminate any activities that might cause a problem,” he said. “I think they now have gone into a mode where they are trying not to do any work around people at all. The school district has taken steps to try to get the complaints addressed, and I think they’ve done a good job at that.”

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Stotts said the district has asked construction crews to isolate work activities ? perhaps small jobs like varnishing or painting ? that could cause an adverse reaction among students and staff.

Though Stotts said he received an anonymous complaint about construction fumes, school district health specialists say they haven’t seen an increase in student traffic this year. AHS nurse Debbie Farrell, the wife of district superintendent Tom Farrell, has been alerted to possible health concerns by both family and co-workers. She said the only headache complaints fielded by her staff have been students with a history of migraines that predate the school’s construction project.

“I haven’t seen anything out of the ordinary,” she said. “We’ve only had two kids that I can think of that have come in with headaches, and they’re kids with migraines who go home and take medication.”

Farrell said AHS staff hasn’t noticed an increase in student absences, either.

“I don’t think it’s up from last year,” she said. “We do have 40 more kids at the high school this year than we did last, [but] I think the numbers are the same.”

Even without an overloaded nursing staff, AHS heads are taking odor complaints seriously. Evans reported to the Aspen School Board on Monday that students and staff will continue to be separated from construction as the AHS project continues, and the school’s ventilation system will “provide maximum airflow throughout the building.”

Evans also said that a Denver-based environmental health specialist would tour the AHS addition and construction site as early as Wednesday. The specialist will be in charge of monitoring air quality as construction and renovation continues, Evans said.

“They’ll be here on Wednesday to do an initial evaluation and determine if we have issues beyond what others have said,” he reported.

Evans will also mail a letter concerning the construction odors home to AHS parents this week to encourage further input.

Andy Montoya, the school district’s construction representative for the AHS project, said school officials have put together a list of items that crews will keep away from students. The list will be finalized Monday night, he said.

[Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is jenniferd@aspentimes.com]

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