CMS building where cancer-stricken employees worked will be sold, torn down

CHARLOTTE — Channel 9 is digging deeper into the safety of a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ building where, last month, anchor Allison Latos reported that nine employees were diagnosed with cancer.

Through Allison’s investigation, more workers have contacted Channel 9, saying they’re sick, too. They all claim CMS isn’t doing enough to determine if the Smith Family Center could be the cause.

One woman Channel 9 spoke with did not want to reveal her identity but did want to speak out about working at the Smith Family Center on Tyvola Road.

“I fear for my colleagues, my coworkers and myself,” she said. “I have to be on cancer meds for the next five years.”

She is the eleventh current or former CMS employee to be diagnosed with cancer while working at the building -- a place where families went to enroll their kids or learn about magnet and pre-K programs.

Signs around the Smith Family Center say it’s closed.

Channel 9 found out that CMS moved all employees out of the building in April, after many of them voiced serious concerns about their health, and fears that the building could be the cause.

The woman who spoke to Channel 9 said CMS never told her why she was being moved. She said that after her own cancer diagnosis, she contacted the CMS Ombudsman Office with questions.

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But for months, she said she’s been ignored.

“Insignificant. That it didn’t matter that I was diagnosed with cancer,” she answered when Allison asked how getting no response from the district made her feel. “And I wasn’t able to get any info from those regarding the Smith Family Center.”

In March 2021, A CMS environmental assessment examined risks of asbestos, radon, water and indoor air quality in the building. The report said it did not find “any identifiable environmental factors that are suspected causes of employee health concerns.”

Still, several employees want an outside investigation and have filed complaints with state and federal authorities. Their concerns didn’t meet the state’s requirements to open a probe, and CMS declined an offer to investigate from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.

Channel 9 has since learned that the Smith Family Center will come down. Last week, the CMS Board of Education put the property on its surplus list, meaning it’s up for sale.

“We would make demolition a condition of the sale,” the board said during the meeting. “Whether we would demolish it or the buyer would demolish it, remains to be seen.”

Currently, no one works inside the Smith Family Center, but the 11 people fighting cancer told Allison they still want answers and reached out to Channel 9 in hopes of getting their voices heard.

“Take some responsibility and have some sincerity toward those employees,” one of them said. “Treat them as if they are significant.”

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One question Allison continues trying to get CMS to answer is why the district declined a federal investigation into any possible connection between the cancer cases and the Smith Family Center.

Since she began this investigation six months ago, Allison has repeatedly asked CMS for an on-camera interview. The school district declined that request but on Aug. 30 said they were working on responses to our questions.

At the time this story was published, Channel 9 has still not received those responses.

Below is a statement sent to Channel 9 from concerned CMS employees:

“We are extremely disappointed and frustrated that we have yet to receive any communication from CMS Leadership or the BOE regarding our concerns with Smith Family Center. We were hopeful and expected more -- at least the decency of a response to our emails (which has far exceeded the district’s expectation of a 24-hour response time). Their lack of response coupled with the fact that Smith is for sale with the intention of being demolished continues to leave us feeling unvalued and indicates to us that there is something to hide. It’s disheartening that we’ve spent years working for an employer who clearly doesn’t respect us or care about our well-being.”

(WATCH BELOW: CMS employees who worked at same building say they were diagnosed with cancer)