At approximately 9:30 am, paint fumes began to fill the halls of Westlake Middle School and Westlake High School. The source of the fumes was quickly determined to be from paint being used by a contractor who was painting the Westlake Middle School boiler room as part of our capital improvement project. Work in the boiler room was immediately stopped and the district construction manager overseeing the project was instructed to get further information on the specific products being used. The contractor completing the work was not doing so with the proper precautions and without reviewing the Safety Data Sheets appropriately. Staff and students in the immediate area were relocated and our maintenance staff began ventilating the building by opening hallway windows and exterior doors to circulate fresh air in the building.
Upon reviewing the Safety Data Sheets for the specific product, and as a precautionary measure, I made the decision to evacuate the school buildings at approximately 11:30 am. The fire department arrived on campus during the evacuation and immediately assessed the situation. The fire department examined both buildings and determined that there were no risks and that they deemed the building safe for re-entry. As a further precaution, maintenance staff entered the buildings following clearance from the fire department and opened all windows for approximately 45 minutes.
The district contacted the appropriate health authorities, the manufacturer of the product and law enforcement/emergency services. These professionals shared with the district that while those health concerns are listed on the Safety Data Sheets that their greatest concerns for the related health issues are only when there is prolonged, acute exposure to fumes from the paint. They have recommended that anyone feeling any symptoms that they believe are related to exposure to the fumes see their healthcare provider as a precaution. You can view the Safety Data Sheets here.
I fully understand every concern that students were uncomfortable and cold during the evacuation. I apologize for every discomfort and inconvenience, but again, I felt that the evacuation was necessary to ensure the health and safety of our students and staff members while more information on this product was being reviewed. We are working on a plan for tomorrow, Saturday, for students to be able to access the building to get their personal belongings and will communicate that under separate cover.
It has been a regular occurrence for capital improvement work to occur during school hours that does not impact students or staff. The district has already ceased all work related to this project and is addressing this serious concern with the construction manager under the proper protocols. The district will be re-evaluating it’s approach to construction work during the school day in the coming days.
Please know that the health and safety of our staff and most importantly of our students is of paramount importance to me. I am truly sorry for the undue stress and anxiety that this situation may have caused. I wish to thank our students and staff for their cooperative and calm demeanor during this very challenging event. I also want to thank our first responders and our bus drivers at Royal Coach for the swift response when called to transport students.
Dr. Kurtis M. Kotes, Superintendent of Schools