A toxic chemical banned more than 30 years ago has been found at the Saxe Middle School auditorium, Superintendent of Schools Bryan Luizzi said in a letter to parents Tuesday.

Polychlorinated biphenyls, known as PCBs, can cause a variety of adverse health effects, including cancer, if there is a high level of exposure to the chemical.

"As a precautionary measure, access to the Saxe auditorium is being restricted at this time until additional testing can be performed over the holiday break," Luizzi wrote. "Appropriate health and safety protocols have been and will be followed during all testing activities."

The auditorium is about to undergo a major renovation. The first phase of the project began this fall with Tighe & Bond doing initial environmental testing.

On Nov. 20 and 21, the environmental firm conducted tests for PCBs, asbestos and lead on the ceilings, walls and adjacent areas of the auditorium, according to the school district's website. Testing showed the presence of PCBs in some paint in the auditorium, Luizzi said in the letter.

Once school officials receive all testing results, a meeting with staff and parents will be scheduled in January to present the complete findings. After testing is complete, the district "will work with Tighe & Bond to develop an appropriate removal plan for the paint systems as part of the auditorium renovation project," Luizzi wrote.

More than 1,200 visual and performing arts students use the facility as their classroom. That's also where middle school bands, choirs and orchestra rehearse.

The 1957 auditorium has a number of deficiencies. Many of its electrical outlets do not work, many of its seats have delaminated, there are no aisle lights, its sound system does not work properly and is not ADA compliant.

The town appropriated $175,000 this year as seed money for planning and design development of the renovations.

--Nelson Oliveira