RCSD students leave current building amid concerns about health

Screen Shot 2017-12-12 at 9.13.50 AMStudents at Rochester Prep and All City High will move to new locations because of concerns about the safety of their current building. Rochester Prep students will move to 1001 Lake Ave, the former home of Nazareth Academy and All City High will move to the intersection of Lyell Avenue and Austin, where Vertus Charter School was housed.

They were both located at 690 Saint Paul St., though All City’s formal address was 175 Martin St. But for the past year or so, staff and students said they’ve been concerned about air and water quality at the site. Students complained about rusty, discolored water that were blamed on old pipes by officials. And some staff blame the facility for miscarriages, asthma and cancer diagnoses that happened while staff and students worked and attended there.

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“I went to the library, this stuff wasn’t there,” said Samantha Brody, one of many concerned All City High staff to show up to a November meeting with District and Monroe County Health Officials. She was asking about testing results for chemicals and toxins at the school. That meeting was created to set up a dialogue between those based at the building, officials and the building’s landlord. For the most part, concerns were assuaged, though many, including Brody, said they walked away feeling unheard and unanswered. Test results weren’t where officials said they were and the landlord of the building was verbally blasted by District officials for failing to notify school staff.

“I was around when the new lease was signed, we did not know it was a brownfield, We subsequently learned it was a brownfield site but then the expert came in and said the site is safe,” -White

However, the conversation on the building’s safety reached a major milestone last week when Rochester Prep students protested by refusing to step inside. Staff there then canceled classes for the upcoming week and the school was the first to announce a move. Yet staff at All City High were more unsure of their next move. The program serves a more vulnerable student population with many of the students under credited. Staff said they were worried that disruptions to transportation or the schedule could set students back. However, they ultimately decided to go forward with the move after a series of meetings, according to staff at the school. They’ll take the next six to eight weeks to strategize and move out.

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Rochester School Board President Van White maintains that the buildings are safe.

“I don’t believe, based on what the experts say, with any scientific justification that they might get cancer. I don’t see it,” he said.

When pressed about how his own visits to the school and what he saw, White said: “I don’t think that’s anyone’s expectation that I go in there and be able to eyeball a problem with asthma. Now can I go see  different things in a house? Yes, we can all do that, but I’m not going to rely on that. Literally, when I go there it doesn’t add value to the conversations and concerns. It’s my responsibility that the people who do have those degrees and that experience are available.”

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He said that data and testing from Monroe County Health officials show that toxin levels in the building aren’t dangerous. The facility was once owned by Bausch & Lomb and, in 2009, was declared a brownfield site. White said when the Board signed the lease for the building they were unaware it was on a brownfield.

“I was around when the new lease was signed, we did not know it was a brownfield, We subsequently learned it was a brownfield site but then the experts came in and said the site is safe. There’s some remediation going on to ensure the health and safety of staff and children.”

Michael Schmidt is the Chief Operating Officer of the Rochester City School District. He also attended the a November meeting with concerned All City High staff. He addressed the concerns, saying the building is safe. He said they would consider bottle refilling stations to easily offer clean, drinking water students and staff would be more comfortable drinking and light renovations throughout the building, particularly on the ground floors.

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White said until the data reflects these larger health concerns, he plans no major renovations at the site past what county health officials are already doing. Additionally, White said he would consider placing students there again in the future. He said because of issues with lack of space and a growing student population, he cannot rule out use of the building in the future.

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