Foundation Academies’ 363 West State Street gymnasium is an important part of our daily culture, hosting a wide range of events, assemblies, physical education classes, and athletic activities. In early September, we were excited to see our newest middle schoolers enjoying their shirt ceremony, which was one of the first full-school events to be held on our newly-refinished gymnasium floor.
This summer, Foundation Academies completely replaced the gym floor after a growing number of New Jersey schools made headlines with the discovery of rubberized gymnasium floors emitting mercury vapor. This news prompted school leadership to immediately assess the rubber flooring installed in our 363 West State Street gym.
After Washington Township Public Schools Superintendent Joseph Bollendorf announced in January that eight of their township’s eleven schools were undergoing mercury testing, at least eleven other NJ school districts have requested assistance with gym floor testing, raising concerns from parents and school administrators statewide.
“The news reports were concerning,” said Graig Weiss, CEO of Foundation Academies. “We will always prioritize the safety and well-being of our students above all. That is why it was imperative for us to be proactive.”
How is mercury linked to gym flooring? Beginning in the 1960s, mercury was used as a catalyst to help rubberized flooring remain flexible. As the floors age, the mercury could break down and release a colorless and odorless vapor. These rubberized floors were widely installed in schools across the United States until being discontinued in the early 2000s.
Erring on the side of caution, Foundation Academies’ leadership and Board of Trustees ordered a preliminary round of air quality and physical sample testing performed by Dr. Richard M. Lynch, Ph.D., CIH of Environmental Safety Management Corporation. This preliminary testing confirmed the presence of mercury vapor in our 363 West State Street facility’s gym.
Effective immediately, the gym was closed to staff and students for the remainder of the school year, and all activities were relocated to proceed with testing, analysis, and the development of a permanent solution.
Within just eight days, final test results delivered by Whitestone Associates, an environmental and geotechnical engineer and consulting firm, showed that all areas of the gym had mercury vapor registering at levels slightly below the NJ Department of Health (NJDOH) recommended guidelines.
With levels registering below the NJDOH guidelines, officials suggest that with certain methods of maintenance and monitoring, schools can avoid total replacement costs. However, to eliminate risk and confidently ensure our students’ safety, school leadership and the Board of Trustees decided to completely remove and replace the gym floor.
“The uncertainty with the long-term safety of the floor was too great. Our Foundation Academies’ Board of Trustees agreed without hesitation. We were able to move quickly and decisively, acting in the best interest of our students and FAmily,” said Weiss. “I am incredibly grateful that our Board consistently puts students first in their decision-making. They unanimously and enthusiastically supported the decision to replace the flooring as soon as possible, demonstrating through action their unwavering commitment to our scholars and school family.”
On August 19, as Foundation Academies welcomed students back for the 2019-20 school year, the gymnasium floor replacement project was nearly complete. The final phase is currently underway, with the installation of new center court mascot artwork completing the finishing touches.
As fall’s cooler temperatures settle in, the gymnasium at 363 West State Street is ready to safely welcome our FAmily, this year and for many more to come.