“The project was not reviewed by an asbestos project design or an asbestos management planner as required by Connecticut and EPA regulations,” wrote Richard Dunn of Dunn Environmental Inspections of West Haven in a letter to a state Department of Public Health environmental sanitarian.
“Additionally, asbestos materials were disturbed by untrained and unlicensed persons during this camera installation project without containment or engineering controls to prevent fiber release,” Dunn wrote in the letter, which appears was part of his report.
In addition, “Custodians state that during this installation a small worker would enter the (confined) space above the first-floor front entrance lobby ceiling by going through a hole in the plaster ... ceiling” and “all new cables were pulled through the space above the central lobby ceiling, then down behind the awards display case and into the wiring spaces of the security desk,” the letter states.
“This above ceiling space has friable asbestos spray-on fireproofing” and “there is evidence of the spray-on fireproofing being recently disturbed,” he wrote.
An analysis by EMSL Analytical Inc. of Wallingford found asbestos in only one of four materials tested.
Mayor Ed O’Brien said of the report, “I think it’s a flawed report,” although he added that he had been “advised not to talk about it too much.” He suggested that publicizing the report was part of a political effort to discredit his administration and aid his opponents.
The report, dated Dec. 14, 2016, was made public this week when Bridgette Hoskie, a parent trying to decide whether to send her daughter to West Haven High or some other school posted it on a local Facebook group page.
The work actually was done in June, after the City Council — faced with a June 30, 2016, deadline to use or lose a state grant, which actually ended up being extended to June 30, 2017 — waived bids and awarded a $210,000 contract to Hi Tech Electricom, a West Haven-based company headed by Richard E. Shea.
In addition to being a contractor, Shea is a member appointed by Mayor Ed O’Brien to the revamped West Haven High School Building Committee and, according to O’Brien, is the contractor who has installed cameras in West Haven schools for years. Shea did not return a call for comment.
“It’s just mind-boggling. I’m not sure I want my daughter to go there,” said Hoskie, whose 12-year-old daughter now goes to Betsy Ross Arts Magnet School in New Haven. Two of her sons previously graduated from West Haven High.
“This person, this company that did the work, that went through the asbestos and didn’t care. How do we know that they’re not going to do this to us again?” said Hoskie, who posted the Dunn report in the “West Haven — The Way It Is” Facebook group.
Mayor O’Brien said the city waived the bids not to reward a supporter or give the contract to any one person but because “we were either going to lose or use it, and the way to use it was the bid waiver.”
“My son is in that school right now. I would never put my child or anyone else’s child in harm’s way,” O’Brien said, adding that “my wife was in that school” earlier this week for a PTSA meeting.
He suggested that Hoskie was likely to run for something on Democratic challenger Nancy Rossi’s ticket later this year.
“I’m not running for anything,” Hoskie responded, although she said she’s been asked to in the past by both political parties.
“It’s kids — it’s not political,” Hoskie said. “My soul and my integrity are not for sale.”
“To me, that’s a conflict of interest” to have someone on the building committee get a no-bid contract, said Hoskie, who is the same West Haven Seahawks parent and cheerleading coach who led the fight to get permanent bathrooms installed at Veterans Memorial Field. “Where are the checks and balances? I’m not saying it’s wrong to have awarded him the contract. I’m saying, who did the checks and balances?”
She’s not the only one worried.
“My granddaughter goes there and in a year I’ll have another three granddaugters going there,” said Janet Carrano of West Haven. “So I’m just quite nervous over that.”
Carrano said she doesn’t know anything about politics or bids, but wants to know that her grandchildren are safe.
The good news is that, according to Superintendent of Schools Neil Cavallaro and Christopher Stan, spokesman for the state Department of Public Health, the high school is safe.
“The school is safe,” said Cavallaro. “When I first saw the report that’s in question, I contacted” state Environmental Sanitarian Laschone Garrison and “she assured me that the building is safe” and “no one is in danger.”
Stan said that “parents and employees of the school have no cause for concern at this time. There are no elevated levels of asbestos in the school. ... I can tell you that the safety of the students and the employees of the school are of the utmost importance” and if the state had found a problem, it would have acted.
But with regard to whether proper procedures were followed and whether any action will be taken against the contractor, “It’s an ongoing investigation,” Stan said. “I was told that the department is continuing to review this project.
“Most important is that people in the community know that their children are safe right now ... and that it’s being looked into so the next time it won’t happen like that,” he said.
According to Cavallaro, “What happened was, when the cameras were installed over the summertime, the person who installed the cameras had not filed to do an abatement plan” as is required when working around asbestos. “However, the only disturbance, when I spoke to Lashon Garrison, was that there was disturbance behind the trophy cases” in the high school’s entry hall. “The concern was that the rules weren’t followed for the camera installation.
“I want to make it clear that that waiver of bid was not requested by us,” Cavallaro said, referring to the schools adminstration. But “I don’t believe for a minute that safety is an issue at West Haven High School.
“As far as the rules being followed for the project, that’s another story,” he said.
WHHS Principal Pamela Gardner said, to her knowledge, the high school had received just one phone call about the issue, but “we did address it at the PTSA meeting on Tuesday night.”
At the time of the environmental investigation, “The state met with the superintendent and our facilities team and felt that any asbestos that was distrubed was contained,” Gardner said.
“I do feel that it’s safe,” she said. “The trophy case that’s in question has been locked since the date in question. On recommendations from the state we are keeping it locked and we are going to be doing some sort of work this summer” to abate the asbestos, she said.
Dunn’s report also raised questions because it said that while his company was asked to inspect 108 security cameras, it “was only able to locate 96 cameras,” and that while Hi Tech Electricom’s invoice showed 32,500 feet of new network cable, “in conversation with Richard Shea of Hi Tech Electricom, Mr. Shea stated the he connected only to the older existing wires.
“Because of the number of known new camera locations, and because of visible evidence of newly disturbed asbestos above the ceiling, DEI believes that some new wire was pulled through this above ceiling space,” Dunn wrote.
While the work was in a school, it was actually a city project. The City Council, through its Finance Committee, waived bids to award it to Hi Tech Electricom.
Board of Education Chairman Jim Morrissey said the board’s “only involvement was, we just approved the grant. It was a grant that was running out. ... The board just approved it to move it along to the City Council.
“I don’t know all the details ... but (Cavallaro) told me that the state person, whoever investigated it, said that the school was safe,” Morrissey said. “Obviously, if there was a problem, they would have shut the school down. If there was any possibility that the health and safety of our students and staff was in jeopardy, the state would have shut the school down.”
Given what the environmental report said — particulary with regard to things the city was invoiced for but may not have received, Rossi, a former City Council member, said, “I really believe there is enough evidence to warrant the City Council exercising their right under the charter to launch an investigation.
“I just find the whole thing very alarming ... that there’s accusations — and I don’t know if they’re true or not ... that what the grant paid for, we didn’t get,” Rossi said. “If that’s the case, I think the City Council should look into this immediately. Were there the proper amount of cameras? Was there enough cable? All of these questions can be answered.”
But City Council Chairman Jim O’Brien said the council looked into whether anything was amiss after Dwight Knowles, a former member of the building committee who was replaced when O’Brien reconstituted the panel, raised questions about the work, and found nothing amiss.
“We did look into it and our preminary (conclusion) was that everything was in order,” he said.
With regard to the asbestos handling issue, “We’ll wait to see what the (state) investigation concludes,” Chairman O’Brien said. “As far as I know, this is political sour grapes. If they find something, then we’ll re-look at at. But I’m not going to react just to Facebook or the political rumor mill.”
Christopher Vargo Jr., who plans to run for the 8th District council seat on Rossi’s ticket, also called a council investigation in a note to his likely opponent, City Council Finance Committee Chairwoman Tracy Morrissey, D-8, that he posted on Facebook.
Councilwoman Morrissey, who is marrried to Board of Education Chairman Morrissey, did not return a call for comment.
By Mark Zaretsky, New Haven Register