ABOVE: Screenshot from this video, filmed by PRHS parent Andrea Janssen, on the morning of October 5th, showing the top of the D-wing. This is where asbestos was primarily detected.
Before we begin: Call for evidence
Citizens’ Media TV is collaborating with Todd Nugent on an upcoming investigative article into asbestos mishandling in the district. Any Pinelands teachers, custodial, maintenance, or administrative staff that chooses to submit evidence of asbestos mishandling or health hazards, may do so confidentially and anonymously to PRHSasbestos@gmail.com.
This email account is owned and operated only by Todd Nugent. Nugent has committed to protecting the identity of anyone who provides information. All of these pictures will be released as a set. The district, the public, and Citizens’ Media TV will never know who took any individual picture. Whatever further conditions are necessary to make you safe and comfortable, just make that clear in your email (such as cropping, or “don’t ever give it to Citizens’ Media TV,” or anything else).
The only thing we ask is that every picture is given a clear indication of when and where it was taken, and a description of its significance. To ensure your privacy, these pictures should be sent from a personal email account.
Alternatively, teachers may send their photos to Mel Reid, president of the teachers’ union, under these same conditions. His personal email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Jeff Epstein, Editor of Citizens’ Media TV
Copy edited by Ben Szioli
LITTLE EGG HARBOR, NJ – Pinelands Regional High School is having its roof replaced. The project started during the summer of 2017 and was contractually required to be completed by September 1st. It is now likely to be delayed into 2018. For each day it is delayed, the contract allows the district to fine the contractors $2,500 per day in “liquidated damages.” As of this writing, more than eighty days after September 1st, this adds up to more than $200,000. On October 30th, District Business Administrator (and Board of Education Secretary) Stephen Brennan stated that damages had thus far not been requested.
For three weeks during September, students, staff, and even daycare children (let alone workers on the roof) were exposed to roofing debris, fumes, and asbestos. Only after the three weeks ended was a letter by Epic Environmental discovered by parents. The letter urgently recommended that “rooftop activities cease immediately.” Even though it was dated and delivered before the three weeks began, the letter was not discovered by parents until October 3rd. The superintendent, along with at least six of the nine members of the Board of Education, were not made aware of this letter until they themselves were informed by parents on Facebook.
The three major contractors involved in the project are Garrison Architects, Mike Kobithen Roofing and Insulation, and New Road Construction. Garrison owns the designs of the building and wrote the bid specifications for the roofing project. Kobithen is the company actually doing the work. New Road Construction is tasked with supervising the project. Specifically, it is the job of New Road to ensure that the contract and its specifications are followed and that the district is continually informed of all progress and problems.
One of the more prominent and outspoken parents has been Todd Nugent. Nugent, a parent of two high school students, is the president of the environmental remediation firm Synatech Inc. and the patent holder for numerous environmental and medical technologies. He is also trained for asbestos as a safety technician, planner, designer, and supervisor. (The road in front of the high school, Nugentown Road, is named after his great-grandfather.)
On November 19th, 2017, Nugent delivered a scathing letter to the district’s Board of Education and Interim Superintendent, Dr. Maryann Banks. The letter, while supportive of the Board, blasts the performance of the contractors, with the most intense words directed at New Road Construction and its owner, Chuck Romanoli. Nugent asserts that all the conclusions in his letter are based on either firsthand knowledge or documentation that is publicly available on the district’s website.
(The full text of this letter, which was provided exclusively to Citizens’ Media TV, can be found at the bottom of this article.)
Here is the letter‘s most potent statement:
[T]he roofing company [Kobithen] used little to no engineering controls in the removal of asbestos containing material[.] This blatant disregard for industry standard practices contributed in weaponizing the roofing material and allowing it to enter the occupied building and the surrounding environment.
While Kobithen may be directly and immediately responsible for these violations, New Road and Romanoli are tasked with being the watchdogs of the entire process. They are ultimately responsible for detecting and communicating problems to the district on a daily basis. After receiving his letter, we asked Nugent how could this much go this wrong for this long? He responded that it is “a combination of mid-truths and inaction.” Although the larger picture of this story includes many district figures, such as Banks, elected board members, Administrator Brennan, and facilities manager Richard Mueller, Nugent’s letter focuses exclusively on the contractors.
Nugent told us that “the project has been plagued by mismanagement and miscommunication.” First and foremost, as background for the concerns in Nugent’s letter: classrooms directly below roofing work were indeed occupied during construction for much of the three weeks. Beyond common sense, this is in direct conflict with both Epic’s critical September 10th letter and with a contract that could not more clearly state: “All roof work shall be conducted…in no case while students or faculty are in the building.”
|There are two versions of the full contract available for download. They both contain the same content, however, in the larger version (140 MB) the text can be searched and selected. In the smaller version (37 MB) the text cannot be searched. [Unfortunately, the text of the first 206 pages cannot be searched in either version.]|
Toxic fumes in a new roofing application are strongest during the first few hours, after which they quickly dissipate. According to Nugent, not even the most basic of precautions were taken to prevent exposure, “such as shutting down air handling units and critical barriers.”
In fact, Romanoli nonsensically defended the practice in the question and answer handout, as distributed during the November 15th Board meeting. Romanoli asserted that the ventilation system had to be kept on “by code” when classes were occupied (and especially in “landlocked” rooms with no windows). The contract clearly states, however, that the ventilation system must be kept off throughout the construction project and may not be turned on until the building and ductwork are deemed, in the exact words of the contract, “100% white glove clean.” (Romanoli also stated in the handout, although the ductwork would be “inspected,” that he “does not believe that the cleaning of ducts is necessary.”)
Another contractual obligation to protect the health of students and staff is the requirement that construction should never occur before 3 PM when school is in session. Again, in the November 15th handout, Romanoli stated that this requirement was not followed because “collectively the team agreed to allow [it]” under certain conditions. This further increased the amount of fumes and debris in the building. Compounding this is the fact that Romanoli would not allow the ventilation system to be turned off – because of the sanctity of “the code” – meaning that the amount of fumes and debris was increased and they were more quickly delivered to occupied classrooms.
(We have reached out to Romanoli to ask if he considers these decisions to be in violation of the contract. We have so far not received a response.)
Yet, this is all despite the fundamental prerequisite that the building should never have been occupied to begin with. These and so many other decisions created a catch-22: a situation that guaranteed that nearly a thousand people would be exposed to harmful contaminants for weeks.
Finally, Nugent challenged Romanoli’s attempt to deflect asbestos-related blame away from himself and New Road, instead placing it at the feet of Epic Environmental. According to another parent and construction management expert, Dane Apgar, Romanoli stated at the October 11th board meeting that he is not certified for asbestos handling and was therefore not tasked with supervising any asbestos-related activity. Nugent says this is directly contradicted by Epic, and also questioned why Epic was let go right after their dire warning to stop construction.
We asked Nugent if he had any closing thoughts on the situation. He told us:
If these errors were brought to everyone’s attention at the beginning, instead of having to drag out the truth, I would have far more confidence that Garrison Architects and New Road Construction would be capable of finishing this 53 million dollar contract with no further incidences.
Nugent concluded his letter by praising the board for making the best decisions it could with the information it was given, “despite misinformation originally provided by the construction management group.”
Disclosure: Eighteen hours in advance of publication, a preview of this article was sent both directly to Chuck Romanoli and to New Road Construction’s general contact email. They were provided an opportunity to make any corrections or provide a statement. We have not yet received a response.