9 Investigates: Former school had lead paint in it

by: Alan Cavanna Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Eyewitness News discovered a former CMS school had so much lead paint in it that the state wouldn't license it as a day care. But for years, that same building operated as a preschool.

Lakeisha Woodley showed Eyewitness News the newest pictures of her daughter, Ebony. She's in fifth grade now, but first started school years ago at Tryon Hills Pre-K in north Charlotte.

“She enjoyed it,” Woodley said. “She learned a lot. It was really helpful.”

CMS closed Tryon Hills in June 2011 and decided to lease the building to the Bethlehem Center, a local nonprofit. The center hoped to open its own pre-K program in August this year, but state officials said no.

“It was a big surprise to us, but we found out through this inspection process that this facility at Tryon Hills had a lot of lead paint,” said William McDonald with the Bethlehem Center.

McDonald took Eyewitness News through the school, showing us the fixes they had to make.

“All of this framing had to be scraped. All of this, along the length of the window,” he said. “And as you can see, this is a new, smooth paint.”

In all, McDonald said they paid $60,000 for improvements, much of it for removing or covering lead paint. The problem was the paint chipping and flaking, violating safety standards meant to limit exposure to the lead.

As an outside group, the Bethlehem Center is considered a day care and needs to pass a state inspection to operate.

But Eyewitness News discovered when it comes to issues like lead, public schools operate under a different set of guidelines.

While schools are subject to safety inspections from the fire department and county, there is no outside agency monitoring schools for lead exposure. The oversight is up to the district.

Eyewitness News explained the situation to Woodley, who wondered about her daughter and other students when the school was operated by CMS.

“What were they doing? We wasn't getting inspected when she was attending there,” she said.

Eyewitness News asked CMS multiple times for an interview, but was told no one would talk with us on camera.

The district did send a statement, saying: "We are in compliance and up to code with local, state and federal laws related to the Environmental Protection Agency and have been proactive in practices that keep our buildings safe. We inspect our buildings on a regular basis to ensure that we are in compliance with codes."

The Bethlehem Center's program now teaches hundreds of children each day. McDonald said the improvements will benefit the school for years to come.