Calhoun schools close due to mandatory EPA testing

By Carrie Hodousek in News
MOUNT ZION, W.Va. — Students and staff in Calhoun County were out of school Tuesday due to mandatory EPA testing after someone complained that the ceiling tiles at Calhoun Middle High School may contain asbestos.

Tim Woodward, superintendent of Calhoun County Schools, made the decision Monday night to close schools the next day.

“You never, ever take a chance that there could be anything unsafe in a building for a child, so I felt that the best way in this case was to let the testing get done,” Woodward said.

But Woodward said the decision was a difficult one to make. He said the school is currently certified as an asbestos-free facility where crews have been removing and replacing damaged ceiling tiles for years. Recently, the state Department of Health and Human Resources Department of Environmental Health stepped in and told school officials the tiles had to be tested for asbestos, first, before the tiles can be replaced — something Woodward was unaware of.

“I felt like this was a big change. This organization should’ve done something to let us to know that was a change,” he said.

For that reason, Woodward requested a hearing on the matter with the department.

“At this point, they’re saying just because everybody certifies you as being asbestos-free doesn’t mean anything, so I think we need to come to some understanding of what’s going to be a reasonable expectation,” he said.

Crews had just installed a new air conditioning system at the middle high school this summer, but Woodward said the tiles got wet from the humidity, so the tiles needed to be replaced.

The EPA testing will cost the school system money, Woodward said.

“To test about eight ceiling panels today is going to cost me roughly close to $1,000 once I pay everything, so I was very upset,” he said.

Woodward said Tuesday’s missed school day may have to be made up at the end of the school year. He plans to ask the school board not to make the day up.

“Let’s get our kids back in school and quit interrupting the education of our young people for these types of issues that people just weren’t aware of,” he said.

The testing is being conducted by Pinnacle Environmental Consultants.

Calhoun County Schools will reopen Wednesday.