The new middle-school office remains unoccupied after nearly five months because of a scent that nauseates prospective occupants Sandy Lyon, head of the middle school, and her assistant Barbara Johnson. Now the school has decided that the smelly cork boards will be torn down soon.

Cork boards’ stench means new middle-school office continues to stand empty

More than two months after the completion of the new middle-school building, one room remains uninhabited due to a nauseating scent.

Studio Bondy Architecture builders finished off the freshly built science center by covering one wall of the middle-school office with Dutch-made Forbo cork board panels. Spanning from floor to ceiling, wall to wall, the cork boards fit in seamlessly with the rest of the room.

Despite their aesthetic appeal, the cork boards are currently releasing a gasoline-like odor that is stalling the moving-in process. Due to the overwhelming fumes, Sandy Lyon, head of the middle school, and her assistant Barbara Johnson, have been unable to occupy their new office for over a month now.

So what in the cork boards is causing the fumes? Laura Rambin, principal at Studio Bondy Architecture, said that the smell comes from natural linseed oil, which is used in the production of these boards.

Scott Day, division sales manager at Forbo, described the contents of the boards in more detail in an email.

“Bulletin board is made from natural ingredients, including linseed oil, pine rosin, [and] cork, and [is] calendared onto a jute fiber backing,” he said.

For those in studio art, the cork board material is very similar to that of linoleum printmaking blocks.

Rambin said that aside from being unpleasant in excessive amounts, the fumes are harmless and of low concern.

“It meets the indoor air quality standards of the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS), as well as LEED standards for recycled content, rapidly renewable materials, and low emitting materials (both the material itself and the adhesive with which it is applied),” Rambin explained.

So how can the linseed-oil scent be removed? Both Rambin and Day said that it will dissipate naturally over time. However, the process is being expedited by an air filter recently purchased by the school.

“We don’t know exactly when the smell will go away completely, but it’s definitely improving,” headmaster Stephen Repsher said. “We want to move the occupants in as soon as possible, but we must be sensitive of their varying levels of tolerance against these fumes.”

According to Repsher, these same cork boards were installed in the lower school years ago.  However, unlike the middle-school cork boards, the odor was not an issue when they were installed. Repsher speculated that the fume level of each board is directly related to the amount of time spent sitting in the warehouse before being sold.

“The boards we purchased for the middle school happened to be a popular color, and were therefore being produced and sold at a fast rate,” Repsher said. “Whereas the lower-school boards outgrew their smell in the warehouse before we even installed them, the ones bought for middle school were brand new.”

He said he considered exchanging the current cork boards with older ones, but decided that the fumes are dissipating quickly enough to make waiting them out worthwhile.

As of now, the fumes are not only preventing Lyon and Johnson from occupying their new office, but are also preventing Breakthrough from expanding into the old middle-school office.

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