SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – On the morning of April 28, parents of Future Stars students received an email from Eli Freund, supervisor of special education and preschool for South Plainfield Schools, that the Rainbow and Orange rooms had been relocated to the gym due to an ‘odor’ described as ‘too strong for the classes to continue within the classroom.’

Parents with children in the program told TAPinto South Plainfield that they have expressed concern about a ‘weird’ and sometimes ‘pungent’ odor in the Rainbow and Orange rooms on numerous occasions over the past few years. The smell, said one parent, is ‘musty’ like a basement’ while others have compared it to ‘raw sewage’ and ‘rotten eggs.’ They all agree the smell worsens when it rains or is humid out.

“This has been going on for a while. It is not something new,” said Rainbow room mom Leyna Lillia. “As a parent, my main concern now is what is it. Is it mold? Is it sewer gas? What has my child been exposed to?”

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“I’ve been inside and noticed a very strong odor. It definitely smells in there and it’s disgusting,” added fellow Rainbow Room mom Tricia Hamm, who describes the odor as a ‘sewage-y, musty smell. “The teachers have told me this has been going on for a long time and now I am wondering how long everyone has been subjected to it and what it is.”

In an email sent to parents the evening of May 6, Louis DeLisio, the district’s interim assistant superintendent, said, “The South Plainfield Public School District, in collaboration with borough officials, have conducted assessments over the course of the school year in an effort to identify the odor that is prevalent in two classrooms located in the Roosevelt Administration Building. Although the district was confident the cause had been identified, and addressed, the problem continues to resurface.”

Alex Ferreira, the district’s business administrator, told TAPinto that inspections conducted over the past week by the borough health department, fire department, PSEG and the district’s environmental company all turned up nothing. “They have all looked at different scenarios for clues and have come up with nothing other than the fact that there is a weird smell,” said Ferreira. “At this point, there has been no indication from any of the professionals that we have a hazardous situation on our hands.”

While Ferreira admits the smell does seem stronger when it rains or if the weather is humid, he said there are no evident signs of water coming into the building and that environmentalists also found no signs of moisture in the rooms that would indicate mold. Snaking of the toilets and use of germicides and odor agents seems to help alleviate the smell, but only short term.

“It will go away or lessen for a couple of months but then the smell returns again,” Ferreira said.

The Rainbow and Orange rooms, along with the Green room, are located in the trailer or ‘add on’ portion of the building, which have been in place for over 17 years. According to Ferreira, it is possible that a drainage problem or an issue in the crawl space – such as an inappropriate vapor barrier or ventilation barrier –could be to blame and might explain why the smell worsens in certain weather conditions.

“It is difficult for me to say it is definitely not this or definitely not that or that it definitely is this or definitely is that.” Ferreira said, noting that his ‘ultimate recommendation’ is to open the floor and wall that is shared with the two classrooms. “My feeling is – and this is something I have communicated to other administrators – only after you tear open that floor and wall will you get a clearer understanding and then we can get to the bottom of this.”

Lillia agrees. “I am trusting the staff to keep my daughter safe…[District official] have said the only way to find out what it is would be to rip down the walls. My opinion is ‘do it.’ Rip down the walls, find out what the problem is, and fix it.”

Construction of this nature, however, cannot be conducted until school is out in an effort to give the district time to access the area and, if necessary, make repairs.

In the meantime, AHERA Consultants, Inc., the district’s environmental company, was scheduled to perform a baseline indoor air quality test on Saturday and a plumber was to conduct a pressurized smoke test of the vent system. The test, said Ferreira, would determine if a possible crack in the vent is causing the smell to come down and in as opposed to going up and out to the roof. Results of either test were not available as of press time.

“We want to take a progressive approach to find what the cause is and tackle it,” he said. “We don’t mind finding something. Then at least we know there is something we can fix.”

The Rainbow and Orange rooms were held in the gym the week of May 2 and, beginning May 9, will be relocated to Roosevelt Elementary until further inspections and tests are complete.

“In an effort to continue to insure a safe environment for our students, and staff, the occupants of these classrooms (Room 414 and 415) will be relocated to Roosevelt School while additional testing is in process. This move is effective as of Monday, May 9, 2016,” stated DeLisio in his email.

As part of the move, pick-up and drop off for these classes will be the front entrance of Roosevelt School with the times for each not changing; music instruction will be provided at Roosevelt School; and physical education classes will be conducted at the Roosevelt Administration Building gymnasium. “Children will be escorted, weather permitting, at their designated time(s) by the appropriate staff,” state DeLisio.

The unknown odor in the classrooms, according to Lillia, is yet another Future Star issue on top of what they feel has been a ‘year filled with concerns.’

“There have been so many issues at Future Stars this year and … this issue of an odor is even more of a concern than all of the other things this year because this could potentially be a major safety issue for the students and staff involved with it,” Lillia said.

Another Rainbow room mom added, “This year has been a disaster. There has been a huge tuition increase, changes to classes, removal of teachers and aides, changes to the time of graduation, and the odor in the classrooms.” She continued, “All of these [issues] have not been relayed to the parents in a timely manner. When they are brought up, vague answers are given by the administration. The administration has not been forthcoming with the parents. There is no accountability …”

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