When the chairman of the School Advisory Board climbed on the roof of Deerfield Beach Middle on November 29, he took photographs of what he thought looked like men who'd "just gotten off the landing ship." The men were in space suits attached to respirators and were digging up voluminous amounts of earth in the schoolyard in the middle of a school day.

As he snapped photos, Phil Swinford was taken by surprise by a man who'd spied him on the roof. The man, Jack King of EnHealth Environmental, Inc., was not happy. "I thought they were going to arrest me," Swinford says bemusedly. EnHealth was hired by the Broward school board as a consultant on asbestos removal.

Swinford's mission is to unearth facts about environmental safety at the school after New Times exposed numerous federal violations at Deerfield Middle -- some possibly resulting in children becoming exposed to potentially carcinogenic asbestos dust. (See "Warning: This School May Cause Cancer," October 28.)

Swinford says he was told that workers were removing soil because it was determined it had been contaminated with asbestos -- back in 1972. "I'm still trying to get the whole story," Swinford says.

He's just one of a growing number of community activists, parents, teachers, and school board employees who've been spurred to action. A community meeting, led by concerned parent Carmen Jones, was held two weeks ago in Deerfield Beach in which New Times staff writer Bob Norman further explained his findings.

The parents plan to push the school board for answers. It's difficult to say now where their efforts will lead, but Swinford says he won't let it rest until the school board, which has maintained a veil of silence because of a pending federal lawsuit, comes clean. "If we have to," he says, "we'll go out there with picket signs that say: 'What about the asbestos?'"

We are about to make our first prediction regarding the new year. It will be weird on Fort Lauderdale beach on January 1st.

How can we prognosticate? By reading about the lineup of activities, courtesy of the city's very promotional Official Millennium Guide. The author, in a typically understated way, says of all city residents, "We've transformed a swamp into a city that's become the envy of the entire world." Hey, why not celebrate that kind of accomplishment?

The guide tells us that on January 1, 2000, there will be "easy spirituality" on the beach between Sunrise and Las Olas boulevards. We've seen that kind of atmosphere, usually in the form of a very white-skinned tourist with a load on.

But the day starts in a real spiritual way with something called the Millenium Mile Human Chain. For all of you getting up at dawn after New Year's Eve, there's a sunrise Christian service on the beach where you can join hands in a "We Are the Beach" type of chain thing. Next comes a dunking in the ocean that's been labeled a "Water Baptism" and, of course, some gospel music.

In true Fort Lauderdale fashion, the tone quickly turns temporal when the celebration moves to that temple of overindulgence, the Elbo Room. There you'll watch a ball drop at noon. (And why at noon instead of the traditional start of the new year? Well, no one seems to know.) We guess it will simply signal the start of another year of hedonistic frolicking on the beach. Say hallelujah.

Got a tip? Call 954-233-1581, fax 954-233-1571, or e-mail [email protected].

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tom Walsh
Contact: Tom Walsh