All Sections

Home | Public Safety

Town looks for solutions for Londonderry School District workers being sickened at offices

Union Leader Correspondent

November 15. 2017 2:51PM
Employees at the Londonderry School District offices have seen a high rate of illness during the winter, with officials blaming the poor environmental and health concerns within the building. (CHRIS GAROFOLO/Correspondent)

LONDONDERRY — The town’s health inspector Wednesday was trying to determine what might be making school district workers sick.

The review of environmental conditions at the Londonderry School District offices follows the alarm raised by several members of the administration, including building and grounds director Chuck Zappala, who spoke at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

“If this were a school, we’d probably close it,” he told the board.

While school administrators are still developing a response to the issue, town officials Wednesday asked the health inspector and Londonderry Fire Department to begin monitoring the situation.

“Prior to this, the health officer had no awareness of the situation that existed (at the school office),” Town Manager Kevin Smith said on Wednesday afternoon.

Part of the town office complex at 268 Mammoth Road, the school district headquarters is a separate building that connects to the Moose Hill Council Chambers. 

The building was constructed in 1982. Zappala called the project “underfunded” and said its “value engineering” reduced the capacity of the HVAC system, which handles air circulation, heat and air conditioning.

The HVAC system was designed for only 14 people, he said, but 24 now work in the space. Zappala said this leads to higher levels of particulates and irritants in the air. 

Testing by the Lawson Group, an environmental services firm, found mold spores present in the building, as well as excessive levels of carbon dioxide. 

According to the district, workers aren’t just complaining about the poor air quality, it’s reflected in increased illnesses and absenteeism over the past three years.

In the winter of 2015-16, Zappala said, nearly every employee in the building contracted the flu, a sinus or a respiratory illness.

Superintendent Scott Laliberte recommended the district pursue information on leasing space elsewhere and bring it before the school board at its Dec. 5 meeting.

“We would require the support of the board to approach a lessor with a request for specific information regarding a property,” he said in a memo to the board. “At this point, leasing space presents us with an option to solve health issues at the district office without incurring the large investment of funds involved with construction, while allowing us to focus our attention on the needs of our expanding elementary school population.”

That option is estimated to come with a one-time cost of $175,000 and an annual price tag of about $157,000.

A modular unit could cost $500,000 for land acquisition, with other one-time costs totaling a projected $425,000, Laliberte said.

Rehabilitating the existing space would cost about $3.7 million; a new building on a new site would lead to seven-figure upfront costs, he said, though it could result in a net savings over time.

Education Environment Health Londonderry Local and County Government

More Headlines