UPDATE: Highland Park Middle School was re-opened Monday, after students and staff were told to stay away from the Beaverton school Friday, Nov. 22. The school was closed on a temporary emergency basis due to health concerns from the discovery of asbestos-laden particulate.
School district facilities staff and administrators made the call late Thursday to close the school, after tests confirmed the presence of asbestos particles in the school's gymnasium.
"Today we received the results form a sample of white particles that were found in the northeast corner of the main gym," a message on the Beaverton School District's website stated Friday. "The particles tested positive for Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) and we do not know the source of the particles."
Additional testing was scheduled to be performed later Friday.
BSD staff said parents were also notified via email and phone messages in both English and Spanish, but members of the media weren't notified until after the closure was in place.
Josh Gamez, BSD's facilities manager, said district staff were alerted to the issue after staff complaints of dust particles in the air.
Gamez said he and other staff suspect the asbestos particles made their way into the gym after recent roof repair work that may have disturbed existing asbestos tiles.
"We had a roof project that had been happening over the summer," Gamez said Friday. "As we got closer to finishing up the project, there were reports of dust that staff was bringing to our attention. We looked at materials in the gym, we looked at what was coming up inside the gym. We knew that material did not have asbestos, we we continued clean up efforts."
Gamez said after sending the dust particles for testing and getting positive confirmation of asbestos material, he and others suspect vibrations during the roof project may have kicked up dust from asbestos tiles in other areas of the building.
Several school sites in the district contain asbestos- a preferred material in the construction industry for several decades up until the 1970s when it was eventually banned. Asbestos is linked to upper-respiratory disease and irritation.
District officials have said that the existing asbestos materials are not an issue unless they are disturbed, and there are procedures and protocols in place to follow before any project, to mitigate and prevent asbestos exposure or disruption.
"We know it's an older building. It was built in 1965. there have been additions over the years. When it becomes a concern is when you disturb those materials," Gamez added.
The district expects to re-open Highland Park by Monday, after taking additional air samples over the weekend.
While the district said it distributed notice of the closure as quickly and ubiquitously as possible, the closure left some parents to find emergency child care.
Mali Degeraty has a son in eighth grade at Highland Park in a special needs program.
"Change in routine with little notice is really hard on him," Degaraty said. "I am surprised that the schools aren't doing annual checks for air quality or (contaminants). This could have been found during the summer and corrected without impacting the students."
This isn't the first time BSD has grappled with asbestos and emergency closure of its school buildings. Earlier this year, West Tualatin View Elementary School students and staff were relocated to a different campus after a leaky roof caused mold and attempts to inspect and remove water damage and mold led to asbestos tiles being disturbed.
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