02/25/04 — School officials admit to mold

View Archive

School officials admit to mold

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 25, 2004 1:59 PM

School officials say they are handling any reports of mold and have measures in place to counteract the problem.

Residents in northern Wayne County said they were concerned about problems in several schools Monday night during a community meeting with school board members to discuss the proposed construction plan.

Mold or Calcium on wall at CBA

News-Argus/Phyllis Moore

Mold or calcium deposits? This is a portion of wall in a classroom at Charles B. Aycock High School that has been affected by moisture.

Sprunt Hill, assistant superintendent for auxiliary services, said he does not deny the problem exists.

"I'm not going to tell you that our schools don't have a little bit of mold," he said, "so do our homes. But we do address it."

He said the school system considers mold an air quality issue and responds to every complaint it receives.

"We keep up with every request for maintenance ... for the school," he said. "We'll be proactive in making sure we get to it."

He said employees have been trained to deal with problems such as mold and that efforts are being made to prevent it. Dirt and moisture are the main culprits, so extra efforts are made in those areas.

He said schools are inspected several times a year. Maintenance staff regularly checks the heating and air conditioning systems at the schools, changes filters at least twice a year, and checks the roofs.

"As many square feet of roof as we have, you're going to have some leaks," Hill said. "When you have got schools built from 1926 to 2002, you're going to have some roof leaks."

Danny Langley, director of maintenance for the school system, said the problem is more typical during the summer due to the humidity. He said that winter is the best time of year, because the moisture level is down with the use of heating systems. But even that can cause problems.

"When students go home for Christmas break and the building is almost empty, no heat is generated," he said. "It can happen quickly from lack of use and the moisture in the building or the library can form mold on books."

Last June, the school system spent $10,000 on dehumidifiers for Charles B. Aycock High School and Northwest, Northeast, and Eastern Wayne elementary schools. The units, Langley said, work to dry out the air in the buildings and are regulated to cut off at a certain level.

Older boilers are being updated to more evenly heat buildings, Hill said.

The school system has also implemented an energy management plan and uses indoor air-quality kits for schools. But there can still be situations that go unreported by the staff unwittingly.

Langley said teachers often have plants that are overwatered or not watered enough, or bring in animals or their own carpet for the classroom. Wet items left lying around for any period of time can also contribute to the potential mold problem.

Kelly Matthews, a history teacher at Charles B. Aycock High School, said she moved a bookcase in her classroom the week before Christmas and found something she believed to be mold on the back wall.

She reported it to the school's janitor, who she said also thought it was mold. When students returned after the holidays, it was still there. So she asked the custodian why it hadn't been taken care of.

"They said they didn't have time to get to it," she said was the custodian's response. "I was told there was mold growing on the floor in the 500 Wing and they had to do that first. But they'd get to it over the summer."

Langley said there is a time factor involved with mold and mildew and that his department responds quickly to reports.

Hill said the school system has hired a safety coordinator, who visited Aycock and had talked with the custodian.

"If something was put off until summer, I guarantee we could wait," Hill said.

Langley said there could be some confusion about what is mold and what is not.

"Some of this issue is, we get there and see it's not mold or mildew; it's due to paint," he said. Since there are a number of older school buildings, there is concern about scraping the paint, which might contain lead, while the students are occupying the building. In those cases, the approach is to wait until school is out.

There is also a difference between mold and calcium buildup, Langley said.

Moisture comes through the wall and forms a chalky white appearance on the inside wall, he said. It gives the appearance that the paint is blistering or bubbling.

"But to the untrained eye, the first thing you'll say is, 'That's mold,'" Langley said.

Hill said he hopes that the public perception is not that the Wayne County public schools are sweeping anything under the carpet.

"I can emphatically say that we're not hiding anything," he said. "If it's real to them, it's real to us. We go and investigate what we can do."

Langley cited the recent Golden A awards as proof that things are working. The awards are given annually by the Health Department to food establishments with inspection records of 95 percent and higher for every quarter during the year. Last month, it was announced that every school in the system earned the honor.

"I can assure you that the cafeterias have the highest moisture level and we have the Golden A in all schools," he said. "If our facilities are that clean in the cafeteria, we're not just focusing in that area."

Hill said his department will continue to look at the problem. It is not only in the 10-year maintenance plan, but the school system is working on performance contracts for anticipated projects in the future.

A meeting on Tuesday had already been scheduled to discuss new air conditioning, heating, and boilers in the schools to continue to improve indoor air quality.

"There's a lot of internal things that are being done," Hill said. "We're going to do whatever it takes to make it safe for the children in our schools."