Price goes up for auxiliary gym floor; seven file for school board

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While the mercury has been abated from the floor in the Benson High School auxiliary gym, the headaches it caused for the school district aren’t over.

When the school district constructed its auxiliary gym just north of the main high school gym, it installed a rubber-like floor. What it didn’t know at the time was that up until the mid-1980s during the manufacturing process mercury was added to them. It was later found that the floors would give off a potentially hazardous mercury vapor. Mercury was then removed from the process, but school districts around the country were stuck with the floors until they could afford to replace them.

As part of its comprehensive maintenance program District 777 was proceeding with removal of the auxiliary gym’s tartan floor at an estimated cost of $50,000. It expected the floor to be replaced by the start of the school year. But the floor isn’t in yet and the cost of installing it has gone up another $17,000. “It is like a thorn, it just keeps getting deeper,” Sup. Dennis Laumeyer told the board of education at its meeting last week.

But when the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) came to test the concrete below the floor once the old surface had been removed, it found mercury readings were five times higher than they were before the floor was removed. It was thought that the mercury might have seeped out of the tartan floor and into the concrete base below.

But ventilating the building and allowing the mercury vapors that had built up during the removal process to dissipate seemed to solve the problem. A later test by the MPCA showed the mercury levels well within the safe limits, Laumeyer said.
“If we tested the air quality, it would be even lower now,” he told the board. “It is already safe, but the company that is installing the floor wants to make sure it is off the hook for any liability.” It also wants to make sure its employees who will be installing it will be protected.

The MPCA takes measurements at what it calls safe levels, or at 5 feet, Laumeyer said. “That is called the breathable zone.” If it is below 750 parts per million at 5 feet it is safe.

However, when the MPCA took mercury readings at the floor level in July, it found that in some places they were around that 750 parts per million reading. “That is not hazardous, but they feel that their installers will be on the floor, and they have to be covered for their protection,” Laumeyer said.

“So even if the mercury levels are down now, they have to have the respirators?” Board Member Jody DeJong-Hughes asked of the floor installers.

“They will be on their hands and knees,” Board Member Bill McGeary pointed out.  

It is the additional equipment those installers will need that is partially responsible for the increased cost.

The company also has added a clause to its installation change order for the additional work that holds it harmless for any problems with the floor related to mercury in the future. It also says the new flooring will not be a vapor barrier to the mercury.

While the school board could turn down the change order, it would have to pay the company $8,000 in lost income under its current contract and find someone else to do the work. It is likely that it would go through the same issues with a new company Meanwhile, the auxiliary gym would not be useable.

School board members unanimously approved approving the $17,000 change order and the language in the contract accompanying it...

Filings for school board

Seven people have filed for the District 777 Board of Education including the four incumbents. In November, district voters will cast ballots for four candidates who will serve four-year terms.

Gary Williams, Andy Abner, Alan D. Pagel, and Bill McGeary have all filed for re-election. Larry D. Smith, David Nagler, and Mary K.W. Langan have also filed for the school board...


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