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Rooms shut for flooding at PS 153

Twelve ground-floor classrooms in the new wing of PS 153 in Maspeth were closed off Monday for a month-long repair of waterlogged flooring, the principal announced at an emergency meeting with parents that evening.

But despite the city's assurances that concentrations of mold spores found in the school fell well within safe ranges, some parents voiced fears that mold may have contributed to illnesses they say have plagued their children this year, while others lashed out at school officials for failing to act sooner.

Some 50 parents and children attended the meeting Monday night at the auditorium of PS 153 on 60th Lane in Maspeth, where a team of representatives from city agencies sought to dispel rumors about mold infestation and explain their plans to clear up the flooding.

Alexander Lempert, a quality control director with the city's School Construction Authority, said water had seeped into six classroom floors in which wood and insulation were layered upon a concrete base. The flooding did not cause significant problems across the hall in six rooms where the concrete floors had no covering, but all 12 classrooms on the bottom level of the wing were closed Monday so repairs could begin. That part of the school will be sealed so no air can escape into other sections of the building during the construction.

"It's a messy job to rip the floor and get rid of all this wet material," Lempert said.

Lempert and other officials assured nervous parents that tests revealed no health risks to the students.

"We are not closing this area for health reasons," Lempert said. "We are closing it strictly for construction purposes."

"What we have now is not a situation that would cause concern," said Bernard Orlan, the director of environmental health and safety with the Division of School Facilities in the city Department of Education. "We do have water damage, we do have water infiltration."

School officials said they do not know how or why the water leaked into the new addition to the school, which opened less than three years ago.

But the top concern on parents' minds was the possibility the school had been infested with mold, which grows in water and can cause problems like coughs, congestion, eye irritation, aggravation of asthma and even fever or breathing difficulties in people who are sensitive to fungus.

Kelly McKinney, an associate commissioner with the city Department of Health, said extensive tests conducted throughout the building revealed no sign of mold concentrations that may cause a health threat. A single spore of one type of mold some experts consider toxic, Stachybotrys, was found in some classrooms, but McKinney stressed the spore levels were so low "we would not even begin to be concerned about health risks."

"The concentrations were not above what we would expect to find in any school in New York City," McKinney said.

Whereas one would expect to find about 10,000 spores per cubic meter outdoors in a typical urban environment, McKinney said only 90 to 100 spores were found inside the classrooms.

Some parents accused school officials of dragging their heels to deal with the flooding problem, which they have known about for more than two months.

"The only reason you're here is because I kicked up a fuss," said Tiffany Elliott, the parent of a kindergartner. Elliott said the city only acted once she sent an e-mail to Chancellor Joel Klein on Saturday after she heard about the potential mold problem, which had been rumored for months.

The principal responded that students would never have been kept in the classrooms had anyone suspected their safety might be compromised.

"There was no even remote thought that this was an unhealthy situation," principal Rosalie Cirringione said.

Many parents were also concerned that a litany of health problems that have afflicted their children may be connected to the mold.

"We should have been told of the risk," one mother said. "My son has been out more than he has been in school. My son was never as sick as he was this year."

The kindergarten and prekindergarten classes that occupied the 12 ground floor classrooms were relocated Monday morning to one of the school's two gymnasiums, where Cirringione said instruction was continuing unimpeded.

"The children are very comfortably now moved to the gym," Cirringione told parents. "Everything was set up ready to go so we didn't really lose any instruction."

The repairs are expected to last no more than a month, at which time more tests will be conducted to ensure the rooms are safe for students to return.

But some parents are still not satisfied. Elliott said she is considering keeping her son out of school.

"Every day he comes here he gets more sick," she said.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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