February 18, 2019

Asbestos scare puts tiny O.C. school district on financial brink

A small Orange County school district that was forced for close campuses and bus students elsewhere in the wake of an asbestos scare is now reeling under a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall.

“You went from being a stable district to a district that’s facing insolvency,” Wendy Benkert, assistant superintendent for business services at the Orange County Department of Education, told trustees for Ocean View School District.

Benkert said the district has run through $2.9 million of $4.3 million in general fund emergency reserves and faces an additional $9.2 million in costs related to asbestos removal and a modernization project at 11 schools.

Should the Huntington Beach school district fail to close its $7.8-million shortfall, it might need emergency funding or could be taken over by the state, Benkert warned.

“But I believe with prudent decisions you can turn this around,” she said.

Asbestos was detected in some classrooms during the modernization project that began in July. The cleanup has closed three schools and left many parents furious as they have watched their children — more than 1,600 in all — be temporarily bused to classes at eight schools in four districts.

As the crisis has unfolded, district officials have remained in close contact with the Orange County Department of Education, which has oversight responsibility.

Benkert proposed several options for school board members, such as scaling down or delaying some construction work or selling an unused school site. Such a sale, however, probably wouldn’t happen quickly enough to shore up the district’s deficit, she said. Also, legal requirements would force the district to offer any open space on an unused site to the city first for a below-market rate.

Nicole Knight Shine writes for Times Community News.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

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Asbestos scare puts tiny O.C. school district on financial brink

Asbestos forces Huntington Beach students to classes on other campuses

Students from three Huntington Beach elementary campuses who have been unable to attend school for days because of the risk of exposure to asbestos will return to class Thursday, but in many cases those classes will be in other districts.

The decision to bus the students to other schools was announced at a news conference Tuesday afternoon at the offices of the Ocean View School District in Huntington Beach.

More than 1,300 students from Oak View and Hope View elementary schools will go to seven schools in four districts — including Ocean View, Westminster, Savanna and Centralia — across Orange County.

Nearly 400 students from Lake View Elementary will temporarily attend Harbour View Elementary and Westmont Elementary, both in Huntington Beach.

“We’re hoping to open school with a lot of happy faces” Thursday, said district spokesman Tom DeLapp.

The district is working to remove asbestos above the ceiling tiles at Lake View, Oak View and Hope View. The process could take more than two months, but the district is aiming to expedite the process, DeLapp said.

Test results at Lake View showed asbestos in two classrooms, the Huntington Beach Independent reported.

At Hope View, a sample taken in one classroom contained a single asbestos fiber collected under a tile that appeared to have been drilled into in order to run television wires, said Cary Ruben, a certified industrial hygienist.

The district has not yet released test results for Oak View Elementary.

When the three schools were built decades ago, asbestos — a mineral — was used as fireproofing on metal beams above the ceilings. Over time, asbestos dust began to fall from the beams and settle on classroom ceiling tiles, district records show.

Though the presence of asbestos that hasn’t been disturbed isn’t harmful, it can become a hazard when high levels of the dust become airborne. Inhaling high levels of asbestos over a long period of time can cause lung disease, experts say.

Parents became concerned about two weeks ago that their children might have been exposed to carcinogenic asbestos dust in their classrooms while the district modernized 11 school sites in a project that began in July.

The district and Cal/OSHA are investigating whether asbestos was being abated after the first day of school.

“These were the three schools that had [construction activity] that was occurring after school started,” DeLapp said. “In our abundance of caution, we’ve decided to close the schools for abatement.”

Oak View and Hope View students will have been out of school for eight days come Thursday. Lake View students will have missed six days. Ocean View School District officials have not said how they plan to make up the lost days of instruction.

“Our primary goal is to get kids back in classrooms,” DeLapp said.

Fry is a Times Community News staff writer.

Follow the reporter on Twitter: @HannahFryTCN

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

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Asbestos forces Huntington Beach students to classes on other campuses

Possible asbestos exposure investigated at Huntington Beach schools

Officials have pledged to test all school classrooms in Huntington Beach for asbestos after concerns were raised that construction work may have exposed students on three campuses to the dangerous material.

Two Huntington Beach elementary school campuses remained closed Tuesday for the testing, which officials said they plan to carry out at all 11 schools, mostly on the weekends.

The Ocean View School District has been investigating whether contractors continued to remove asbestos from facilities after the school year began in September, possibly putting students at three elementary school campuses — Hope View, Oak View and Lake View — in contact with dust.

Parents were notified last week that testing would take place over the weekend and that classes would be canceled Monday and Tuesday, the Huntington Beach Independent reported.

Asbestos is a mineral fiber that until the 1970s was used in building products and insulation materials. Inhaling high levels of asbestos fibers — which can be released into the air during construction — can increase the risk of lung disease, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Parents became aware of the asbestos issue last month when district trustee John Briscoe filed a complaint with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health after learning the material was being removed from several district schools during a modernization effort that began in July.

Cal/OSHA began its own investigation last week, officials said.

“In our abundance of caution, we have decided to temporarily close as we wait for the additional test results to be completed and that they have confirmed that no asbestos is present and that there is no risk,” Hope View Principal Carrie Haskin wrote in a letter to parents.

No other schools are scheduled to be closed for testing.

Though the district maintains that the schools are safe for students, more than 100 people, mostly parents and teachers, attended a community meeting last week to voice their concerns.

“I have been assured by the hired professional architects, contractors, abatement contractors, construction management and environmental testing companies that the schools are safe,” Supt. Gustavo Balderas wrote in a letter to the community. “I have been provided closure reports showing no airborne asbestos after [it] was abated.”

The district is set to host a special board meeting at 7:05 p.m. Tuesday at the Marine View Middle School gym, 5682 Tilburg Drive, to discuss the school closures.

Hannah Fry writes for Times Community News.

Hannah Fry can be reached at hannah.fry@latimes.com or on Twitter: @HannahFryTCN

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

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Possible asbestos exposure investigated at Huntington Beach schools