(Carlos Restrepo/Democrat-News) [Order this photo]
The annex, which houses roughly 150 students, will not be torn down immediately. However, classes will be held in three temporary trailer classrooms, which will cost the district $21,000.
About 60 years ago, the BMS annex next to the school along Jefferson Avenue was erected as a temporary structure to house more students at the school.
Several tax levy propositions for new school buildings in the district would have removed the annex. Those propositions failed, and health concerns are on the rise.
Huff said the because of the annex's age, the school most likely knew the facility had asbestos. He said the hazardous mineral was discovered underneath tile floors after tests were administered.
"The problem there is that it's fine and safe as long as it is not being disturbed," Huff said. "But the floor is so old that the tile is cracking up and there are chunks coming off. It becomes a health hazard."
The issue surfaced after word that a teacher -- one who taught in the annex for some time -- was recently diagnosed with cancer. She was not the first, but the fifth teacher diagnosed with the disease.
"We had several teachers who have worked in that building the entire or most of their careers who have developed cancer of some sort or another," Huff said. " ... It's becoming a concern that, 'Is the annex toxic of some kind or is it causing cancer?'"
After he heard the news, Huff contacted the Missouri Department of Health. Because the types of cancer of the five teachers are not the same, the health department said the annex was not considered a "cancer cluster."
"Now, are there air quality issues out in the annex? That's yet to be seen," Huff said. "We know that we have issues with the asbestos flooring, which we do know asbestos causes cancer, but it's limited to the lungs through mesothelioma and that's the limit of it. That's not good, so we need to deal with that issue."
In addition to the asbestos, the building also has mold problems, which he said should disappear after recent roof leaks are fixed. He said the Center for Disease Control and the Missouri Department of health were willing to test the building for air quality, but explained the only way to test the building was while teachers and students were inside.
"They told me they cannot do that until they actually get people in the classrooms and actually working in those classrooms because they have to check for carbon dioxide levels and all those things," Huff said. "You won't have the same levels of carbon dioxide in there unless there are kids in there, so I can't get those tests done until we are actually back in school and actually using the facility."
The board, however, decided to lease the temporary trailers rather than open the annex to staff and students again.
"I don't think we put kids back in that building," said board member Sherrie Souffer. "Or the teachers."
Board member Mike Mills said in the four years he has been with the school district, this issue has surfaced annually.
"I just think the annex should be gone," Mills said.
Board member Douglas Koehn said he wished the school could find a permanent solution to the issue, which Huff said would have to come in the form of voters realizing the need for the district to have new buildings.
"It seems like we just keep putting a lot of money into a short-term fix," he said.
A couple of teachers in attendance Tuesday teared up as they spoke about their fear of having to teach at the annex.
"[Teachers] are terrified to go back there," said Elaine Kelly, fifth-grade teacher at Bueker. "They are afraid for their health. They are more than happy to live in a trailer. That's better than what we have."
Contact Carlos Restrepo at firstname.lastname@example.org