Students to finish school year at temporary location as asbestos investigation continues at North Park Montessori School

The North Park Montessori School is located at 3375 Cheney Avenue NE

Grand Rapids Public Schools have hired an outside consultant to determine whether asbestos or other contaminants have created health concerns for the 400 students and staffers at North Park Montessori School.

Meanwhile, school officials said students will complete this year’s coursework at a temporary location that was hastily opened after possible asbestos exposure was discovered in the building where a new air conditioning system was being installed.

Grand Rapids Public Schools spokesman John Helmholdt fields questions from reporters about the North Park Montessori School closing

School officials briefed parents in two meetings on Tuesday, March 12 and held a press briefing for reporters at the district’s administration building.

John Helmholdt, a spokesman for the school system, said they have hired Nova Environmental Inc. of Ann Arbor to sweep the building for possible contaminants. Nova will review the work done by MicroAir, the company which has been the district’s longtime consultant on asbestos issues.

Since work began in November, eight to 10 classrooms in the building have had cutting or drilling into plaster that has been identified as containing or possibly containing asbestos. The project was halted after a new contract worker reported the plaster looked like it contained asbestos.

Related article: Students move to new building while asbestos investigation begins

So far, Helmholt said early tests have not detected any contamination from the project in the building, located at 3375 Cheney Avenue NE.  He said Nova Environmental was hired just this week and has not yet begun its investigation of the building, which has been closed to all parties.

Also involved in the response are the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the Kent County Health Department, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Helmholdt said.

Ultimately, Helmholdt said investigators hope to chart where and when the work crews operated in the building and whether students or staff were exposed to asbestos, lead or silica. So far, they only have data that was collected on the day the school was closed and it showed no asbestos contamination, Helmholdt said.

Meanwhile, students continue to learn at space that was created for them at GRPS University, a professional-development center at 1400 Fuller Ave. NE. The students should expect to complete the current school year at the temporary site, he said.

“Our priority has been to get these students relocated as seamlessly as possible,” Helmholdt said. “They’re using this as a teachable moment and learning opportunity.”

The students and teachers are using new and donated Montessori materials that were assembled after their existing course materials were left in place when the old building was closed.

Jamie Hedges, a parent with children in the first, fourth and sixth grades at North Park Montessori, said he was satisfied with the school district’s quick response and transparency about the issue.

Health officials say little is known about short-term exposure to children.  Long-term exposure among asbestos workers can lead to lung cancer, mesothelioma and other respiratory diseases.

Those with questions or concerns are encouraged to email northparkinfo@grps.org.

The North Park Montessori School has been closed since mid-February after the possibility of asbestos was raised during the installation of a new air conditioning system
James Harger
James Harger reported on West Michigan's economy, courts and politics for The Grand Rapids Press and Mlive.com for more than 37 years. He also is employed as Servanthood Leader at Immanuel Lutheran Church in downtown Grand Rapids. A graduate of Central Michigan University, he also has worked for publications in Holland, Mount Pleasant and Lansing. He is married to Lisa and has one daughter, who lives in Ann Arbor. Read James' full bio.

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