An alleged late-night construction project at the Lyons-Brookfield School District 103 administration building that kicked up enough dust to trigger fire alarms back in February is the subject of an investigation being conducted by the Illinois Department of Public Health’s Environmental Health Division and the Cook County Department of Environmental Control.
According to a report written about a week after the Feb. 9 incident at the school district’s headquarters at 4100 Joliet Ave. in Lyons, a county inspector found a chip of floor tile containing asbestos near an 8-foot-long by 6-inch-wide trench that had been filled with concrete in the floor of a room being renovated in the building.
The space previously served as the IT room for the district offices and the trench was dug to run computer cables through the room. During the inspector’s Feb. 15 visit, Maintenance Director Ryan Grace reportedly told the inspector he didn’t know when the concrete was poured into the trench, stating that a cabinet previously was stored on top of the area.
But at least one county official has questioned Grace’s statements to the inspector.
The Riverside-Brookfield Landmark obtained the inspection report and internal county emails concerning the matter in response to a Freedom of Information request.
In an email to colleagues on Feb. 24, Christopher Antonopoulos of the Cook County Department of Environmental Control reported he didn’t believe Grace’s statements to the inspector.
“It’s safe to say Ryan Grase (sic) lied to [the inspector] during her investigation from a file cabinet being over the exposed concrete area in the Admin building to making false statements with regards to Ryan telling [the inspector] he didn’t know when the concrete was poured into the trench,” Antonopoulos wrote.
Antonopoulos’ conclusions came after he interviewed the school district’s custodial manager, Jerry Przyzycki.
According to Antonopoulos’ Feb. 24 email, Przyzycki, Grace and IT Director John Williamsen talked about moving computer cables inside the administration building on Feb. 8, the day before fire alarms were triggered.
During that discussion, Przyzycki told Antonopoulos, Grace recommended running the cables through a trench in the floor instead of above the ceiling.
On Feb. 9 at 10:30 p.m., according to the email, the school district’s alarm company called Przyzycki at home to report a “full alarm” at the administration building. Firefighters arrived but left the scene shortly afterward. Przyzycki told Antonopoulos that the alarm was trigged while Grace was using a power saw to cut the trench in the floor.
The following morning, on Feb. 10, Przyzycki reportedly told Antonopoulos that he found three empty cement mix bags in the back of a pickup truck in the administration building parking lot. And later that day, according to Antonopoulos’ email, a custodian told Przyzycki that Grace “had decided to cut and trench through the floor to relocated (sic) the cables and wires.”
The Landmark also talked to Deanna Viti Huxhold, a former District 103 school board member who said she visited the administration building on the morning of Feb. 10 and walked through the work area accompanied by Assistant Superintendent Kyle Hastings.
Huxhold said a prior administration had considered remodeling the former IT room but decided against it because of the presence of tiles containing asbestos. On Feb. 10, the IT room was full of dust, Huxhold said, and there was a small trench filled with wet cement in the floor.
There was so much dust present, Huxhold said, that her shoes left footprints as she walked out.
Melaney Arnold, communications manager for the Illinois Department of Public Health, confirmed that the agency’s Environmental Health Division was investigating the District 103 asbestos complaint with the Cook County Department of Environmental Control.
However, said Arnold, that investigation could take months to complete and that the agency had no documents to share at this time.
“Asbestos abatement investigations and administrative action can take several months,” Arnold said.
If the school district or its employees are found to be in violation of the state’s asbestos abatement law for schools and public buildings, there could be consequences depending on the state’s findings.
“Fines and penalties are calculated based upon the number of violations and the number of days the violation existed,” Arnold said. “The statute provides for $1,000 per day per violation. False information would result in a violation of the statute.”
District 103 Superintendent Carol Baker, meanwhile, downplayed the matter, saying that state and county inspectors said “there were no current concerns within the district or they would have required immediate testing.”
However, Baker indicated that the school district was missing asbestos compliance paperwork and blamed prior administrations for the error.
“Compliance paperwork is missing from the last several years,” Baker said in an email. “Prior administration never completed/never filed paperwork for several projects that were over the previous several years.
“They gave the district a list of what needs to be done to be in compliance from the previous administration and projects that were done. We have already started working on the lengthy list.”
Baker said more information about the subject would be shared with the public at the next school board meeting.