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Classroom closures sparked by PCB fears, new test results soon

MONROE —  Seven location sinside the Sky Valley Education Center were closed on Wednesday, March 1 because of school district concerns about high test levels of contaminated air.
The district is saying a test it received from December gave false positives, but wants to check again. A second test in January showed the chemicals were not detectable, which is a desired outcome.
A new series of test results should come back no later than Friday, March 10, district officials said.
At a press conference March 1, superintendent Fredrika Smith said they are closing
the school to “double check, triple check” the results. Nothing else prompted the closures, Smith said.
“We have done very thorough testing and a lot of renovations, and there’s nothing to indicate that we shouldn’t have kids in this school,” Smith said.
A group of concerned parents, though, have said enough is enough. The group Healthy Sky Valley Advocacy Group says students should not be in this building.
The school at 351 Short Columbia Street was plagued with trouble from polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the air last year, and teachers and students reported headaches and illness. There have been more than 100 reported cases of illness, according to a Snohomish Health District email that the Tribune has not indepen-dently reviewed.
The district paid $1.2 million to remediate the issue last summer by replacing heating and cooling ventilation systems, sealing over old joint caulking and replacing light fixtures where PCBs may lay, among other work.
“Every window in this building was scraped and new epoxy was put in,” assistant superintendent Justin Blasko said.
The light fixtures were replaced because light ballasts are a common source of seeping PCBs.
PCBs are odorless and miniscule. They were banned in 1979, but the reason they become hazardous is because the chemicals break down over time.
The district subsequently then had environmental quality contractors test the school.
SVEC is a K-12 alternative school with about 850 students.
Students move from classroom to classroom, so no specific age range consistently used the classrooms being taken out of service. The scenario also means the school will have to juggle students into the remaining classrooms available, Blasko said.
SVEC’s building was built in 1968 as Monroe High and was once Monroe Middle School.
SVEC moved into this building right after Monroe Middle was disused. SVEC moved in after it used to be housed in a rented space in the Fryelands Industrial Complex up until about six years ago. That old space was not conducive to learning and had campus security concerns, Smith said.


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