Girard school building causes new round of headaches

Some of the students and teachers at Girard Intermediate School said the building was giving them headaches.
Several weeks ago, the building was closed for the remainder of the school year. But now it's giving administrators and school board members headaches of a different kind.
Last week it was learned that students attended classes in the building for several months during which there was no valid state occupancy permit.
Let us pause here to stipulate that the combination of problems that were the presumed cause of respiratory distress and other symptoms for the students and teachers are not likely to have been uncovered as part of the occupancy permit process. Indeed, a temporary permit was issued last September without uncovering any problems with the quality of air in the new building or the Prospect Elementary building to which it was connected.
Air quality issues aside, no public building, and certainly not a school building, should open its doors without an occupancy permit, which are meant to assure that buildings are structurally sound and safe.
The Division of Industrial Compliance of the Ohio Commerce Department issued a 90-day temporary occupancy permit for the building last fall. It expired Nov. 30, 2000.
What was missing: As we said, air quality was not at issue. What was at issue was the absence of dampers that are meant to keep fumes from being able to go from one room to another in the event of a fire. The state said dampers were needed; the school district had thought not. Also, sprinklers were installed, but weren't operational.
The state says it was incumbent on the school district to call its inspectors back when the work was competed. Perhaps, but it seems to us that the state should also be keeping track of temporary occupancy permits. When those permits expire, the state inspectors should make a second inspection -- no invitation is necessary.
If the work hasn't been done, the state should demand an explanation and take appropriate action -- padlocking the building in the case of extreme noncompliance.
What the lack of an occupancy permit tells the people of Girard is that its school officials were too eager to open a new building. Perhaps the original time table was too ambitious, perhaps there were construction problems. The bottom line is that corners were cut, and that is unacceptable.
The silver lining in this cloud is that Girard residents can be certain the state will demonstrate an unprecedented vigilance before it reissues an occupancy permit for the building. That's a sure thing, and it's a good thing.

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