More than two years of illness and frustration at the Panguitch High School has subsided and the puzzling "sick building syndrome" may finally be whipped.
"The ventilating system has been fixed for over a month now and I'm taking a very positive outlook," said Garfield School District Superintendent Phillip Blais. "Teachers aren't complaining. There may be some sensitization, but I haven't had complaints and neither has the principal."There have been plenty of complaints for a long time from students and faculty members. In a public announcement in August, teachers said they had a "sick-free" summer and they anticipated a good working environment in which to teach their students. They said they were willing to allow time for completion of repairs to the ventilating system, but threatened, "If we and our students experience the same effects as in previous years, we hope parents will support us in moving to a safe environment."
The repairs were not completed by the specified date, but the school staff gave officials a reprieve from their threats, staying in the school rooms until the "fix" came in November. Blais said the exact cause of the sickness may never be determined but that many dampers in the ventilating system were not functioning properly. Some of the dampers had never even been connected.
Larger capacity lines were installed for more air volume, and the control system was improved.
Repairs to the ventilating system cost $62,000, but that is only part of the bill the district has paid in an effort to find the cause of the malady and solve the problem. The total cost "was about $160,000 from day one," the superintendent said. The state gave financial help to the investigation with a $10,000 grant.
Teachers have supported Blais in his efforts to remedy the sick building syndrome. He wasn't on the scene when students and teachers first became ill in 1988, suffering from headaches, nausea, sore throats, bloody noses and fatigue. They lost the ability to resist and overcome even simple illnesses.
Some efforts had been made to solve the problem after about a third of the students in one class became extremely ill and another third suffered minor sickness.
When Blais was appointed superintendent, the sick building syndrome was placed high on his priority list. Blood samples from two teachers and a dozen students were examined at the University of Utah Medical Center. Doctors conducted chest X-rays, tested lung capacities and completed blood chemistry analyses.
Blood samples from those most severely affected were sent to the antibody Assay Laboratory in Santa Ana, Calif. The laboratory reported a low level of a benzine-type substance in the samples, indicating victims suffered form an allergic-type reaction.
But there still was no determination of the cause of the sickness.
The Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational Environmental Health conducted other tests but reported there was no evidence to indicate a common denominator for the illnesses. Students and teachers continued to suffer.
Parents reported that their students were free of the sickness during summer months when the school was not in session. But when students returned to school, the symptoms began to reappear.
An apparent breakthrough finally came when school officials consulted with the building's architect and design engineers about the air system. Smoke tests revealed stagnant air lay at the lower two-thirds of the affected rooms. Blais noted that specifications had changed since the school building was designed during an "energy crunch," reporting new regulations required three to four times more air than was originally provided.
The superintendent pledged efforts would be made to solve the mystery of the illnesses by eliminating each factor one by one. Some efforts had been made other than with the ventilating system, including installation of humidifiers, placing green plants in each room, and covering dirt berms with sod by volunteers to eliminate dust. But major efforts centered on the ventilating system.
If the system proves to be the culprit, as is now indicated, the sick building syndrome will finally come to an end. "We are sure hoping this has done it," Blais said. "It looks good. "