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Freshman Kathleen Denise Castro finds the library off-limits.

An Uphill Battle: A Fight Against Asbestos in the School Library

Due to recent discoveries of asbestos in the school’s library, renovations have been halted on a space that the students of Nutley High School need. Principal Dennis Williams said, “I can’t give an exact estimate on when it’ll be open, but after talking to contractors and architects; it shouldn’t take long, maybe a couple of renovations and mostly cosmetic things.” 


School libraries are something almost vital to the student body. English teacher Jessica Lemire said, “A library is a place for gathering critical inquiry, research, and exploration. A library isn't just about taking out books, but it's a space of learning and a space to share ideas.” 


We were all set for construction to start back in November; in fact, they were supposed to come in over Christmas break and get started [on renovations],” Principal Williams said. “Above the library drop-ceiling there’s a really cool old infrastructure in there from what it used to be, but they’ve layered it off and put heating vents on it and all of that stuff. To support that, they put in an asbestos laced firewall in the ceiling, supposed to be fire resistant, but when the contractor came in, he said that they couldn't work on it due to the elements of asbestos that needed to be remediated.”


The asbestos that they found in the library back in November has totally stunted the project due to its danger. No amount of asbestos is safe in someone’s body and someone inhaling these particles can be detrimental to their health, making the library an extremely dangerous place. “The best thing for this building would be to knock it down with a wrecking ball and start new. It’s a beautiful old building, but to do anything like this it costs a lot of money. You’ve got to clear everything out before you make it nice again, and what New Jersey asks us to do is crazy,” Williams said. 


Using her credentials and first-hand experience to her advantage, Lemire said, “In my role as union president, I've gotten a first-hand look at how funding and projects for schools work, and unfortunately, this project has hit many road bumps that have made it difficult to complete in a timely manner. Public education is full of many different stakeholders and red tape that makes doing projects difficult; you can't just call up a contractor to come and fix it, it has to go to bid and then to the Board of Education and to a vote, etc.”


Before renovations started, the library was originally split into three sections. On the one side were book stacks that housed fiction and nonfiction books. The middle had computer tables, the circulation desk, and then regular tables where kids could sit. The other section was where the TV studio is and the librarians office as well as research materials. After the library media specialist we had was moved to Washington Elementary School, we didn't have anyone fully in charge of the space, so it was mostly used for study halls and a meeting space,” Lemire said.


Williams feels there may not be that much of a use for libraries given how much kids read nowadays. Williams said, “How many kids are reading books nowadays? Not that we don't need it, I think there is a vital place for books, but the idea of what a library is has dramatically changed since we’ve started the project.” The introduction of 1 on 1 Chromebooks and technology changes a library’s use drastically. Students do not have to research things in encyclopedias; they can now just type something into Google and find the information they need. 


There are a few things that are going to be implemented into the library that will benefit students such as meeting spaces, conference rooms, classrooms, and of course your standard bookshelves. “All of the things here have wheels, even the bookshelves. We can change the flow and design of the library often depending on how we’re using it,” says Williams. 


Lemire said, “Kids will also be able to take books out and congregate with one another and also have a space to hang out again.” This will be both a professional space and a sort of common area for students. “There’s going to be a couple of things it’ll add [to the student environment]; it’s going to be used as multi-purpose space which we don’t have a lot of in this building. That’s the key piece. The idea would be, on the common lunch, it can be used for research or any academic piece; it can be used for meeting with clubs and student use in general,” Williams said.