A [Sometimes] Overlook Odor

A strange odor has been popping up intermittently at Overlook; the Montco Health Department will visit the school today


There has been a mysterious odor plaguing the fourth-grade wing of Overlook Elementary School since early January. And after $2,700 spent in repairs and upgrades to the 6-year-old school, other smells have been pinpointed and eliminated, but not the smell.

Abington School Board President Raymond McGarry describes the smell as a “sweet-type smell that keeps persisting and coming up intermittently in the building.”

During last night’s school board meeting, Abington School District Supervisor of Facilities Stephen Saile presented a timeline of concerns and actions taken regarding the smells at the school.

On Jan. 2, the school reported unusual odors in the fourth-grade classroom area. An HVAC mechanic was sent to investigate, but no odor was detected. The following day, a teacher complained of headaches and “feeling sick.” An HVAC crew was sent again, but no odor was detected. Smells were also noticed on Jan. 5, 9 and 13.  On Jan. 13, a teacher complained of a sweet, sickening odor in room 108. Four children were sent to the nurse, and administration contacted Eagle Industrial Hygiene to schedule an investigation on Jan. 20. On that date, EIH conducted airflow testing and found some kitchen and air delivery system deficiencies. They were corrected, but the odor was found again on Feb. 15 in the fourth-grade wing.

The entire timeline will be available on the school district’s website later today.

“There have been many, many interventions that have occurred, but unfortunately there are still some signs of this mysterious smell that occurs infrequently at the Overlook School,” Abington Superintendent Amy Sichel said.

According to Saile, the environment is safe; the school’s administration has taken steps to temporarily move students from the affected areas of the building.

To that point, Sichel said she looked at all of the complaints from children who have visited the nurse’s office at Overlook dating back to November. She said the complaints were “just as random as if I had [sampled complaints] at Rydal or McKinley.”

The administration contacted the Montgomery County Health Department on Monday and requested “further support;” the health department is scheduled to tour the school today.

One of the next steps includes identifying some of the chemical components that make up the odor by using a gas chromatograph. This method uses special containers that are activated when the odor is present. Saile said this technique could cost between $3,000 and $5,000. He added that he was “frustrated” that the source of the odor could not be identified.

“We have set up a testing procedure that is in place right now,” Saile said. “Our hope is that these tests point us in the right direction.”

And if the odor persists? Well … Sichel said there are a few options. They include: moving students and staff from the affected areas on an as-needed, temporary basis; relocating fourth-grade classes to other areas of the building for an extended period of time; and relocating the entire school to the former Glenside-Weldon Elementary School on Easton Road.

“It’s a good building and it’s clean,” Sichel said. “I’m not suggesting [the move], but it is an option.”

Following the presentation, some parents of Overlook students said they were disappointed that the school administrators only sent out two letters. Christina Matthews, who has two children at the school, said, “We didn’t know what was going on and it would have eased our minds had we known that there were people there [working to remedy the problem.]”

Letters were sent to parents on Jan. 20 and March 23. 


Check back later for an update.

VOR March 28, 2012 at 02:24 PM
Sounds like someone may need to investigate what type of heating system is installed in the school. A radiant style heating system with a glycol based heat transfer fluid, similar to the coolant in your car, could produce a 'sweet smell' if there is a leak. The HVAC person should have picked up on that. Just a thought, I am not an engineer or maintenance staff member, but someone is collecting a paycheck that should be able to solve this problem.
lisa March 28, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Mrs. Greene and the teachers/staff at the school have been following this problem since January. I appreciate all that has been done up until now. I do hope that the School Board and Superintendent follow through with their commitment to keep the parents informed of all that is going on.


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