School will be monitored

PARENTS of children attending a school whose main building was abandoned after staff sickness have been told atmospheric monitoring will continue after the youngsters reoccupy it.

PARENTS of children attending a school whose main building was abandoned after staff sickness have been told atmospheric monitoring will continue after the youngsters reoccupy it.

St George's Infants' School in Barrington Road, Colchester, was evacuated almost two years ago after staff complained of illness linked to a mystery smell in some areas.

The 240 pupils and 28 staff have since been housed in portable classrooms while investigations into the phenomenon were carried out.

At meeting last night 20 parents were told that if a forthcoming series of tests showed no anomalies in air inside the school's main building it should be safe for children to start using it again in September.

A year's testing would then follow in every room of the school's main building to make sure no volatile gases found their way inside.

After children were evacuated in June 2001, parents voiced concern that contamination might have risen from underground air raid shelters that were on the site in the Second World War. They also expressed worry that nearby ground may have been used for Ministry of Defence waste disposal.

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But tests carried out by experts on behalf of Essex County Council failed to find any cause of either the smell or the reported staff illness.

Professor Gary Raw, of Building Research Establishments, said last night that five of the eight air raid shelters had been found and samples from them tested using boreholes, one of which went down 12 metres underground. No suspicious findings resulted.

However, work was carried out to seal off the floor and ceiling of the areas in the school that had been affected with a special membrane.

A new ventilation system has also been installed and the kitchens isolated so fumes cannot infiltrate nearby rooms, and the inside of the school has received an industrial clean.

The evacuation, subsequent tests, building modifications and relocation of the school has so far cost Essex County Council almost £500,000.

Headteacher Valerie Hollanders, herself a victim of the illness which followed exposure to the mystery smell, told parents last night: "I wouldn't go back unless I thought there was a very good chance it would be ok.

"We will be ever-vigilant to make sure children are safe. We definitely won't take chances with little lives.

"I think we can safely say that our school will be the best monitored in the county. It should be quite nice I should think. We shall have the purest air – it should make parents feel reassured."

Acting chair of governors, Jacqueline Bull, said: "We have listened to the experts. We are lay people, not experts ourselves, but they have told us everything they have done is everything they can do.

"I would just like to say thank you to the governors, staff and members of the community who have worked tirelessly on this issue. A great deal of people's time has been spent trying to make our school happy, healthy and safe for our children."

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