Mold problems continue to plague area schools

Officials plan open house at Intermediate School from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday

By lindsey siegle
Staff Writer

Mold problems continue
to plague area schools

Officials plan open house at Intermediate School from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday

By lindsey siegle

Staff Writer

OCEAN TOWNSHIP — Their kids may not have been in school, but on Monday, more than 700 parents got a lesson on where mold comes from and what it takes to get rid of it.

The parents were educating themselves on the issue because their children are currently unable to attend class at the Intermediate School, and in part of Wanamassa Elementary School, because mold has contaminated the buildings.

According to District Superintendent Thomas Pagano, the problems are not related and have two separate causes.

At the Intermediate School, an ideal set of conditions, combined with a cooperative air-conditioning system, is responsible for a mold problem that was found in four rooms on the first day of school and spread to 35 rooms by the next day, according to Michael D. Moschella, an environmental engineer with The Whitman Cos., the East Brunswick engineering consultant the district has hired to remediate the problem.

The situation at the Wanamassa school, which serves kindergarten through fifth grades, was attributed to a blocked storm drain, according to school officials.

The drain is believed to have been clogged during construction work at the school over the summer, and on two occasions caused flooding in the lower level of the school that led to the growth of the mold. The second flooding that occurred in August is believed to be what caused the problem.

The situation at the Intermediate School has many parents nervous about what their children will face when the school reopens, and has caused some serious logistical problems for the district as the school year begins.

Dave Yasser of Carole Drive, whose daughter Vanessa is a student at the Intermediate School, said, "We’re not here to hear people complain. We just want to hear how they’re going to solve the problem and how this is going to affect the schedule."

Yasser’s sentiment was a common one as about a third of the audience filtered out of the gym after officials explained the cause of the problem and how it was being dealt with.

At the Intermediate School, The Whitman Cos. are going classroom by classroom, cleaning all surfaces and materials that can be cleaned, and disposing of items that cannot. The air-conditioning system’s duct work also is being sanitized, and humidity sensors are being installed in the school to help officials monitor and mitigate any conditions that allow the mold problem to recur.

The district has estimated the cost of the work at $300,000, and the expense is not covered by insurance. Pagano did say the district would be seeking any grants that may be available to offset the cost of the work.

At the Wanamassa School the plasterboard and wood framing that has been contaminated with mold are being removed. Officials did not have an estimate on what the cost to fix that problem would be.

School Business Administrator and Board Secretary Kenneth Jannarone said the walls will be removed at least 18 inches above any affected area. He said the drain problem has been cleared.

Many parents arrived at the meeting wondering why the mold problems had not been dealt with before the school year began.

Pagano explained that, particularly at the Intermediate School, the problem did not really exist before the school opened — noting that after the mold was first discovered, it was limited to four rooms, and officials thought the school would have to be closed only two days. That plan had to be changed after the rapid mold growth that took place after the first day of school.

Throughout the meeting, Pagano emphasized that he was confident the mold problem at the Intermediate School would be completely eradicated by the end of the week, and he said an open house is slated for Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m., so parents can tour the facility before it reopens for classes on Monday, Sept. 15.

The superintendent noted he was "extremely galled [over the situation], and facing the problem with a sense of irony," because the district has been considered a model in its efforts to combat mold in its facilities. He said the district was an early participant in the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Tools for Schools program, which was created to help schools avoid mold problems. The district implemented the program two years ago, and was commended and received a $13,000 grant for its participation.