C.R. Anderson Middle School students missed a week of classes in January after tests found lead dust at levels higher than federal standards.
An old shooting range in the school’s basement that was closed in the mid-1990s was the suspected source of the lead. Abatement Contractors of Montana, LLC conducted rapid cleaning and A.L.M. Consulting ran comprehensive testing before the school was reopened after being closed for five school days.
The initial tests for lead were commissioned after Helena Public Schools Board of Trustees Chair Libby Goldes raised questions at a Nov. 2013 board meeting regarding the old C.R. Anderson shooting range.
Superintendent Kent Kultgen, who started working with the Helena School District in 2012, said all the necessary precautions were taken when the shooting range was closed two decades ago. Testing earlier this year revealed the school was not up to current standards, he said.
Limited testing revealed lead dust concentrations of 800 micrograms per square foot on exposed ductwork through the old shooting range, Ryan McGee of A.L.M. Consulting told the Independent Record after the closure. Federal standards limit safe lead levels to 40 micrograms per square foot.
Families of the 1,000 students who attend C.R. Anderson were alerted of the situation by an email blast sent at 10 p.m. the night before the closure. The district also made around 3,000 phone calls, Kultgen said.
“I know that parents depend on the school,” Kultgen said in January. “All of a sudden we pull that out from under them at 10 p.m., but we were concerned about safety in that building.”
Following closure, detailed tests on reachable surfaces like desks, closets and shelves revealed concentrations below 10 micrograms per square foot. Eighteen of 20 air samples taken before reopening the school did not detect any lead. One detected lead at a concentration lower than Environmental Protection Agency standards. The last test showed concentrations of 0.18 micrograms per cubic meter, slightly higher than EPA standards of 0.15 micrograms per cubic meter.
Abatement contractors cleaned the basement, which remained closed after the rest of the school was open. Classes located in the basement were temporarily moved until the basement was deemed clean.
Kultgen said several air ducts were sealed until the summer, when professional crews cleaned them.
Following the closure, St. Peter’s Hospital provided free lead screenings for C.R. Anderson students and staff. Local health officials said the testing was not necessary.
“I believe 81 people were tested and no one came back with elevated levels of lead,” Kultgen said.
He added no former students have brought complaints or lawsuits against the district following the finding of lead dust in some areas.
The school district paid a total of $128,630 for testing and abatement of lead contamination in C.R. Anderson, according to information provided by the district in April.
A.L.M. Consulting charged $50,731 for tests and Abatement Contractors of Montana, LLC charged $76,119 for cleaning. The district also paid $1,780 to other contractors.
All of the expenses were paid using the district’s elementary building reserve account, Kultgen said.
To make up for the lost class time, school began five minutes earlier and ended eight minutes later through the remainder of spring 2014. The schedule change allowed the district to meet the minimum instruction hours enforced by the state.
C.R.A. Principal Bruce Campbell assured parents teachers would use the time constructively.