Mayor Warren: I told school board not to put students in Rochester Prep building

December 05, 2017 06:52 PM

The safety of a Rochester school is being called into question following News10NBC's investigation into dangerous chemicals found at two buildings on Saint Paul Street.

It used to be a Bausch and Lomb site with contaminants found in the soil and groundwater years ago. While cleanup efforts have been underway, students and parents say they did not know the risk they faced walking through the hallways every day.

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"About five or six years ago, I went to the school board and asked them not to put children in this particular building because of the environmental concerns," says Mayor Lovely Warren.

Despite the remediation and cleanup efforts underway at 690 Saint Paul since 2009, Mayor Lovely Warren says the building never should have been used as a school.

"You have a situation right now, where even if you have a piece of paper saying it's okay to be in this building, people don't feel that safe and okay," says Mayor Warren.

She believes the health risks associated with being exposed to TCE and other toxins the state says is present in this area isn't worth sending students here – and says it's time to remove them immediately.

"It's not easy to move a school, especially in the middle of the school year, finding a space conducive to instruction is the biggest issue," the mayor explained.

Students from Rochester Prep charter school -- which subleases the building - organized a rally on Tuesday. They refused to step foot in the school to force administration to take action.

"Everything was happening so slow, we need something to change this moment," says Jalynn Webb, student.

News10NBC also found Tuesday that, on three separate occasions between 2009 and 2013, school board member Cynthia Elliot said children should not be in that building and the district should sue to get out of its 15 year lease.

News10NBC found the comments in the minutes of the city school board meetings. In 2009, a year after the district signed a lease at this building, Commissioner Cynthia Elliot made a motion not to place district students at the facility.

Two months later, Commissioner Elliot made another motion that no students, staff or supplies be housed at the facility. And again in 2013, Elliot expressed concern for students and staff and said the district should enter into a lawsuit to get out of the building. The building houses two schools: All-City High, a district school with about 100 students, and Rochester Prep, a charter school.

Tuesday, the communications director for the city school district, Carlos Garcia, said this: "The building is safe to be in."

Garcia said state and local agencies told that to parents at a meeting one month ago. The school building is part of a complex of old Bausch and Lomb buildings. It's now owned by Genesee Valley Real Estate. According to the city school district website, in August 2008, a month after the district leased the space, the owner detected "TCE in soil, groundwater and indoor air."

Berkeley Brean: "Carlos, when RCSD signed the lease back in 2008 was it aware that there were chemical, environmental problems at that building?"
Garcia: "It is my understanding that the building was vetted both by the Board of Education as well as the district as a whole to make sure it was safe to be in that building."

The mayor says parents shouldn't have to put their child's health at risk -- which is why she's now working with city and school staff to find a new location, even if it’s temporary, to get students back to class in a safe environment. She hopes to have those options in the coming days.


Stephanie Robusto and Berkeley Brean

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