Citing safety concerns for students and staff, parents implore SMSD board to delay school demolition

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SHAWNEE, Kan. -- Parents packed the heat at Monday night’s Shawnee Mission School District board meeting, where dozens raised concerns about the demolition of an elementary school.

During the public comment section, Trailwood Elementary parents said they are worried that tearing down an old asbestos-ridden school building – that sits adjacent to a new one – will put their children’s health at risk.

“I’d like to take these last 10 seconds for a moment of silence for every child that might be buried because of your mistake!” said Randy Fikki, the father of a 3rd grade girl who attends Trailwood.

Trailwood Elementary’s brand new school welcomes students for the first time Tuesday, which is something parents say they’re thankful for. But at the same time, they’re concerned with the district’s plans to tear down the old elementary school, while their children study in the new building just feet away.

An asbestos abatement and demolition is scheduled to take place in just a few weeks on Jan. 27. It’s a date parents believe should be postponed until their children begin their summer vacation so their kids aren’t at risk for exposure to any contaminants.

“If something goes wrong, there’s the potential for exposure to a whole host of hazardous materials,” said David Kirsch, who also has a daughter in the 3rd grade at Trailwood.

“In this situation too, those kids with acute respiratory problems, they become the canary in the coal mine. So we’re here to speak on behalf of the parents of those children.”

While the district insists the demolition will be “low risk” for asbestos exposure, some parents worry about the 457 students and staff who would be very close to the construction site, potentially breathing in hazardous air that could eventually lead to the development of mesothelioma cancer.

“The emotion level is skyrocketed,” Fikki said. “I mean, I spoke with some parents today. We sat down in my living room and talked to parents who were in tears over what was going on.”

Fikki continued, “They have the option of taking the school down in the summertime. Right now, there may be some additional costs, but really what is a child worth?”

Parents have now started a petition that’s garnered nearly 300 signatures, asking the board to re-examine their plans.

“Jim Hinson, shame on you that we’re still having this conversation!” Fikki told the superintendent during public comment, “when there are 407 children involved and 50 staff members!”

A district representative told FOX 4 on Jan. 10, the issue will be discussed privately among JE Dunn contractors, the abatement company, Trailwood Principal Greg Lawrence, PTA President Christa Rupp, the Kansas State department of Health and Environment, and a pediatric environmental hygienist from Children’s Mercy Hospital.

Any changes in demolition plans will be announced to parents after that meeting, the district representative said.