CASHMERE — Cashmere students are back in school this week after a smoke-caused six school-day break.
Cashmere School District staff, employees and community volunteers worked with environmental engineers through the weekend to clean and install air scrubbers, filters and entry vestibules to reopen the three schools to Cashmere’s 1,400 students Monday.
“They all think they’re going into a spaceship, but that’s OK,” said Tony Boyle, Cashmere High School principal, about the school’s entryway arrangement that includes noisy air-filtration systems, coils of fat air-filled plastic tubing and a zippered plastic doorway that looks like a set from “E.T.” or “Star Trek.”
“This is much better than an instant headache,” said high school senior Brian Norwood. Sitting in class Thursday, Sept. 13, before the schools were shut down, was like sitting in front of a campfire, he said.
Conditions were still very smoky — with air-quality levels well into the hazardous range — in Cashmere Monday, but the air inside Cashmere schools was squeaky clean.
Superintendent Glenn Johnson said 35 air-cleansing machines with HEPA filters were strategically installed to recycle and clean air in the district’s elementary, middle and high schools. The machines, along with the air-blown double entryways, new carbon filters on all ventilation systems and a thorough cleanup of settled ash, have reduced harmful smoke particles by 90 percent from what they were last week, he said.
Students were sent home early Sept. 13 when air quality conditions became unsafe. The district decided to close the schools until air quality improved.
“Cashmere is a unique situation. We had visible smoke in all three buildings,” said Johnson. Cashmere’s deep canyons funneled smoke and ash from the Poison Fire in Mission Creek Canyon right at the schools, sending air quality monitors to unprecedented hazard levels. Carbon monoxide level readings taken when the schools were closed last week rose to dangerous levels, he said.
“Other places were doing things that may have been perfectly appropriate for them. We decided if we were going to make an error, it was going to be on the side of safety,” Johnson said.