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HMS Has 'Serious' Air Quality, Moisture Issues, Schuster Says

Recent burst pipes caused by extreme weather has led District 181 officials to believe the issues are more serious than previously thought, but HMS staff members have been worried for a number of years.

Hinsdale Middle School (Patch file photo)
Hinsdale Middle School (Patch file photo)

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Hinsdale Middle School has major air quality and moisture issues, District 181 superintendent Renée Schuster said during Monday night’s board of education meeting.

Schuster said HMS has been considered the district’s “most needy school” for some time, but the pipe bursts caused by the extreme weather earlier this month, in addition to additional leaks discovered last weekend, have upped concerns.

“In the last two weeks it’s become evident that the problems are much more serious,” Schuster said.

Currently, she said, 50 percent of the building’s second floor and 25 percent of its first floor is suffering from “serious water damage.” Missing linoleum flooring, holes in the drywall, and noisy fans and other equipment are visible and audible throughout the school’s hallways.

HMS is closed Friday for wetness testing and cleaning.

The board unanimously approved a $26,000 study of HMS, and to a much lesser extent Clarendon Hills Middle School, by the architecture firm of Healy, Bender and Associates that will evaluate the school's educational space issues and incorporate the results of environmental studies already performed or currently underway at HMS.

During Monday night's public comment, HMS sixth-grade teacher Heather Scott criticized officials for not improving or replacing the building sooner, saying both staff and students have experienced burning and itchy eyes, nausea, nasal congestion, headaches, sore throats, dizziness and light-headedness and other issues related to the moisture.

Currently, she said, 85 percent of staff has health concerns related to HMS, and 29 percent have had those concerns for the last four to seven years. 

HMS, Scott said, is “neither a safe nor adequate” learning space in the wake of the pipe bursts.

“Students and staff have been displaced in a severely space-challenged building,” Warner said before describing the school’s condition. “Bookshelves are on blocks, lockers are on blocks, water buckets are in many rooms, rags are being used to dry water creeping into rooms under baseboards, floor tiles are buckling, ceiling tiles are missing due to being water-logged, blowers and de-humidifiers are in hallways and in classrooms, and water even dripped onto electrical wires, causing them to short and smoke while students were present in more than one classroom.”

Scott is the co-president of the Hinsdale-Clarendon Hills Teachers' Association (HCHTA), District 181’s teacher union. She said she was speaking on behalf of the entire HMS staff.

Christine Maxwell, an HMS reading specialist, spoke after Scott and emotionally pleaded for major board action.

"Please devise a long-term plan to solve the problem permanently," she said. "It’ll save you much more in the long run." 

Board President Marty Turek said he expects to discuss HMS further at the board's Jan. 27 meeting.

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