Lexington's Locust Trace school has high radon levels, needs 'emergency' fix

Locust Trace opened at the start of the 2011-12 school year.
Locust Trace opened at the start of the 2011-12 school year. ©2012 Herald-Leader

Lexington's Locust Trace AgriScience Center, built in 2011, has levels of radon higher than what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends, and the district will need to make an "emergency" fix over winter break, district officials said during a school board meeting Thursday night.

Locust Trace, which is on Leestown Road, is the newest career and technical high school in Lexington, with an focus on agriculture.

The Fayette County school board is expected to vote this month to fix the problem.

"The superintendent has declared this project to be an emergency in nature," board documents said. "The concern for the health, safety and welfare for the students, faculty and staff requires FCPS to move forward quickly to complete the radon mitigation system installation and to provide the indoor air quality recommended by the EPA during winter break" which is Dec. 20 through Jan. 4.

Mary Wright, the district's chief operating officer, said no student had complained of being ill.

Wright said the district had taken appropriate steps.

"We've never intentionally put people in harm's way," she said.

Radon is a cancer-causing, radioactive gas, according to the EPA website. It comes from the natural decay of uranium that is found in nearly all soils. It typically moves up through the ground to the air and into buildings through cracks and other holes in the foundation.

Wright said that radon was prevalent throughout Kentucky and that there was no way of knowing whether radon would be an issue until a structure was in place.

The Locust Trace building designed to be a net-zero energy building, producing as much energy as it uses over the course of a year.

Through a yearlong radon screening, the levels of radon were found to average more than the 4 picocuries per liter that the Environmental Protection Agency recommends for indoor air quality.

Wright said she did not know what the highest reading had been. As a result of testing, the district has installed a mitigation system in a portion of the building, resulting in some improvement. However, radon in significant areas of the building remain higher than the EPA recommendation of 4 picocuries per liter.

Temporarily, overriding the HVAC system controls to pump outside fresh air into the building around the clock produces positive pressure and reduces the radon levels to EPA recommended levels. But that increases energy usage by approximately 20 percent, board documents said.

According to board documents, fixing the problem would cost $46,775.

Wright said radon does not make people sick immediately.

"Anything we don't know a lot about tends to frighten us," said Wright. "But we are always going to do what we think is in the best interest of the kids and the staff."

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