One school break extended

July 21, 2003 11:00 pm

By CLAIRE ST. JOHN

While most kids are trudging back to school after a long, hot summer, Columbia Elementary School students will have an extra two weeks to get their summer fun in.

School will be delayed because of an unexpected discovery during a summer modernization project — low-level asbestos.

"It's a very, very low health concern, but (the asbestos) has to be removed by a professional," said Columbia School Superintendent John Pendley. An air-quality inspector also had to confirm that asbestos fibers are not drifting through the air.

A highly friable, or brittle, material, asbestos is only dangerous if it is disturbed, Pendley said, allowing the hook-shaped, lighter-than-air fibers to be ingested. Because the school's asbestos was only found in chalkboards and floor tiles that had long been carpeted over, there was no health risk to students in previous years.

"It was non-friable," Pendley said. "You'd have to grind it up to ingest any particles. The good news is, we spent the time and cleaned that place out."

Although the asbestos was cleaned up two weeks ago, it has pushed the modernization project back by half a month.

"For that reason and some other reasons, we won't make the Aug. 19 start date," Pendley said.

School will instead start Tuesday, Sept. 2.

"When you consider the issues we ran into, we dealt with it quickly and with very few dollars," Pendley said. You're going to run into issues whenever you tear into a building that was built in 1936."

And because every dollar counts for schools, Columbia Elementary trustees have made sure that the missed days will be made up during the school year, to ensure full funding.

Instead of a full week of vacation in February for Presidents' Day, Columbia School will only take a Friday and a Monday off, and classes will stretch into the summer next year.

"Instead of June 3, school will end on June 10," Pendley said. "It shouldn't affect anything, really."