A chain reaction of bad news is leading to the temporary closure of the gym at Chute Middle School for asbestos abatement.

The primary culprit is the sub-freezing weather over winter vacation, according to District 65 Operations Director Joseph Sierra.

Sierra told the school board’s Buildings and Grounds Committee on Monday that “we had a pipe burst in one of the storerooms and the water went into the wooden floor of the gym.”

The floor expanded, Sierra explained, and “is considered a total loss.”

Committee Chair Joey Hailpern said the floor damage is a topic of conversation among Chute students.

“I hear about it from my 7th grader, that there’s a big hump in the gym.”

Now asbestos removal can be added to that conversation.

Due to the age of the school, which was built in 1966 (actually making Chute one of the system’s newest structures), there was a logical chance that asbestos would be discovered under the floor …. and it was.

Sierra said removing that asbestos, and replacing the floor, will take the gym out of service through the end of March or early April.

He said contractors will “isolate the entire gym,” and the removal work will be done after school hours, from 4 p.m. to midnight.

Hailpern, who said he is familiar with asbestos removal procedures, said it’s critical to inform Chute families of safety precautions.

District 65 Buildings & Grounds Committee meeting on Monday afternoon.

“If I’ve never done this before, and all I hear is ‘cancer-causing material in my child’s school,'” it can be scary.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, asbestos is not generally considered harmful when not disturbed. But removal cuts up asbestos-containing materials, which is why workers wear safety gear.

Superintendent Devon Horton said a letter will be going out to Chute families explaining how the work will proceed.

There is at least one silver lining to this dark, asbestos-lined cloud. District 65 is insured against losses like this. Chute Middle School will be getting the new gym floor for the $2,500 deductible on the insurance policy.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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