Air Quality Much Improved, but Job Isn't Done

Article excerpt

Byline: Denise Raleigh

Underneath the south bleachers of Naperville Central's football stadium is a cinderblock building brightly adorned with Redhawk red and white.

A small red door identifies the entrance to Naperville Unit District 203's building and grounds department. The quite-modest structure houses the epicenter of an award-winning program.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency believes the work of the District 203 buildings and grounds department - along with the school community - is worthy of national recognition.

Last week, the co-chairs of District 203's Indoor Air Quality committee - Project Manager Laurie Bachar, teacher Betty Wine and parent Liz VanArsdell - and Assistant Superintendent Ron Gibson went to Washington, D.C., to accept the Region 5 Excellence Award for 2001 and to learn more about indoor air quality. The district was recognized for using the EPA's Tools for Schools Kit to work to improve indoor air quality after teachers complained of flu-like symptoms in a few buildings.

The initial complaints led Ralph Weaver, director of buildings and grounds, to order the EPA kit for each school. In March 1999, Gibson and other school leaders established an air quality committee made up of administrators, teachers, a school board member and parents. I have been glad to serve as a member.

District 203 didn't win the award because air is of optimum quality in every classroom. It isn't. Last year, the DuPage County Health Department found the majority of District 203 classrooms tested needed better air flow.

The district won because it has been proactive with air quality initiatives, not waiting for a lawsuit to begin evaluating and acting.

The district is looking at all schools in accordance with EPA recommendations about creating awareness with people in the buildings.

During the two-day Tools for Schools symposium, attendees learned about the work being done on air quality by other school districts in the country. Most of these districts began their work after lawsuits were filed against them. The federal government estimates that 50 percent of the nation's schools have air quality concerns and that nearly one in 13 students have asthma.

District 203's program is rare because it employs Bachar, an expert who has a background in industrial hygiene and health and safety.

The biggest challenge so far has been educating staff members at all 21 schools about the proper maintenance and operation of equipment, Bachar said.

Bachar's presence has made a difference. She connected with the DuPage Health Department and made sure District 203 schools would receive air testing. …