Squirrely smell closes bandroom | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Squirrely smell closes bandroom

Something stinks in the Kingsbury Middle School music room, and no one is quite sure what it is.

Speculation about asbestos and chemical toxicity have circulated, but squirrel remains and excrement found in the music portable’s ventilation system are a more likely answer, according to Douglas County School District officials.

About three weeks ago, band and and choir students were moved out of the music room and into the library and gymnasium, while a strong nauseating odor was investigated.

Kingsbury Middle School Principal Nancy Rollston notified District Director of Business Services Rick Kester of the incident.

“I know nothing about a possible asbestos or chemical toxicity,” Kester said last week. “About two weeks ago, I got a call from Kingsbury saying there was a very high level of odor out in the music room, probably from dead squirrels. But one custodian who had gone in there had some sort of reaction. I think chemical exposure is what the workers’ comp claim says.”

According to Rollston, head custodian Ed Acker became very ill and broke out in a rash, after being in the music room. The cause of his reaction is still unknown. Acker was unavailable for comment.

“When we heard about it, we got a firm in there immediately,” Kester said. “Our main supervisor Jim Bell contacted a company called Advanced Installation that does work in the area. They do rodent infestation work. We called them. We called OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). The issue we were dealing with was the smell, which was caused by one or two rodents that we think had gotten into the mechanical system. We still have found no evidence that we are dealing with anything more than that.”

As a precautionary measure, wall insulation and ceiling tiles were removed from the building, Kester said.

Once given the OK by Advanced Installation, students reoccupied the music room, but they didn’t stay for long. The smell was still there.

“The firm originally went in and found some evidence that squirrels had been in the attic area and we had already known one got into the heating system because our own maintenance removed that,” Kester said. “As a precautionary measure, all the insulation in the room was removed. All the duct work was put in again and then they spent a lot of time trying to make it squirrel-proof for the future.

“We called in a second consultant to look at the whole situation and then we moved people back into the room. When we did that, we got another complaint that there was still a faint odor. We’re not taking any chances, so the kids moved back to the library.”

The consultant went back into the music portable and removed part of the heating system and ripped out the carpet.

“We tore the carpet all out to make sure there was no mold or mildew under it,” Kester said. “We haven’t reoccupied the room yet, basically because we’re going to recarpet it. Before we reoccupy it, we’re going to run the heating systems again to make sure everything’s OK. But to this very day, nothing has been found but a couple of squirrels that have gotten into the heating system.”

OSHA representative Rich Meyer investigated the odor problem in Kingsbury Middle School’s music room.

“Basically, the problem from the beginning was they had a critter infestation,” he said. “Those little guys made housekeeping in there and made a mess. When they turned the heaters on in that room, they cooked one. That’s not exactly good air quality.”

Asbestos has been ruled out, but Meyer said he cannot be 100 percent sure there is no chemical toxicity in the area.

“We’re doing an ongoing investigation to make sure there is no continuing health hazard,” he said. “In these cases, there is no standard as to what you do. You just make sure the district does what they need to do.”

Whether or not burnt squirrel remains are the cause of the music room stench, is still be determined, but Rollston said students and staff will not be returned to the building until hazardous fumes are fully ruled out as cause.

“It’s frustrating because we can’t say exactly what it is,” Rollston said. “They can’t do an air test, because they don’t know what to test for.”

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