The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 12, 2003


Fast mold cleanup allows school to open on time

Carlisle School was not spared the mold curse of the summer of 2003. However, a fast response by the school, bringing in a professional mold abate-ment contractor, allowed the cleanup to be completed in time for school opening on September 2.

Mold was discovered in August flourishing in the classrooms. "Shawna Horgan [first-grade teacher] was working in her classroom on August 16," explained Superintendent Davida Fox-Melanson at the recent Carlisle School Committee meeting, "and she came to the office to report a small problem with mold in her room." Supervisor of Buildings and Grounds David Flannery accompanied Fox-Melanson to Horgan's room, and confirmed there was mold. Flannery then toured other classrooms, and discovered an extensive mold problem in the rooms with no air conditioning. He contacted AirCare, an environmental company, who contracted to begin mold abatement on August 18. Meanwhile, large dehumidifiers were rented over the weekend, which arrested the growth of new mold.

Complicated mold abatement procedure

AirCare begins by sealing off the contaminated area and keeping it isolated, explained Flannery to the school committee. They use negative air machines with high efficiency air filters to keep the mold in place. The team moves from room to room, continued Flannery, removing all items that might have "gross contamination," usually items that are porous like cardboard, curtains, or pillows. The next step is cleaning the rooms and rugs. One rug had to be ripped out and replaced, said Principal Andy Goyer. The last step AirCare takes is to administer a germicide fog, after which they ventilate the room, and dry it with a dehumidifier.

"We lost a great amount of teacher materials," said Goyer. All the new third- grade math books, which were stored in cardboard boxes, had to be thrown out when it was discovered mold had penetrated into the boxes. New third-grade microscopes had Styrofoam parts which the mold penetrated, and could not be removed. Many of the materials thrown out were teacher-made, and very difficult to price, continued Goyer.

Air ducts contaminated

Flannery said they performed air testing in all the buildings, and "found small amounts of mold in the Spalding air ducts." AirCare was contracted to clean all ducts. Fox-Melanson said the school received a letter from AirCare confirming the mold abatement was completed, and all air samples are below EPA limits; indeed lower than the outside air, she said. The information on what was used to clean the mold and what type of common mold was present is available to the public, she said.

"We should be very proud of our staff, working overtime to finish," said Fox-Melanson. AirCare worked on the Robbins and Grant Buildings first, and teachers couldn't access the classrooms until the Wednesday before school started. But teachers in the Spalding Building had to wait until Labor Day week-end to set up their classrooms. "Teachers helped others who couldn't get to classrooms until the weekend," said Fox-Melanson. "Cooperation was magnificent," agreed Goyer.

Financial blow to school budget

"It was very difficult, financially, but we had no choice; it was a health and safety issue;" said Fox-Melanson. "The one bright spot is that our library is air conditioned." Despite mold, she said, "school opened on time and was very upbeat."

"Thank you for your support," she said to Flannery, commending him on his efforts to "get the school through this emergency."

The total cost for the mold removal was $32,900. Insurance will cover $25,000 of the cost, and the committee is hoping the rest can be recovered from a reserved fund transfer. However, the teacher-made materials were not covered by insurance, nor were the textbooks, microscopes or rug. The total material loss is $12,915, making the total cost of the mold remediation $45,816. "We did not budget for mold," Fox-Melanson said. She said they will have to defer purchases for curtains for the auditorium and for blinds because of the mold expense.

Unusual summer weather

"I've worked here for thirty years and have never seen anything like this," said Flannery. He said he felt Carlisle was lucky, though, since other communities had more severe problems, and were late opening for school. Flannery felt the main factor was the unusually humid summer. When the staff did the usual summer cleaning, he explained, the areas that were washed didn't completely dry.

Flannery mapped out the changes that would take place to prevent future mold problems. "We will measure humidity in the future. Sixty percent humidity is a problem." Air conditioners would help, he said, since the buildings that were air conditioned experienced no problems. Simple disinfectants can be added to the cleaning solutions to keep down the mold and mildew, and he plans on requesting the purchase of at least two large dehumidifiers, which will cost around $1,800 each.

"We are in a negative position, and it leaves us beginning school in a bad position financially," Fox-Melanson said. "However the school is open, it is certainly safe and learning is taking place," she continued. "Other schools were not so fortunate; instead of snow days, they had mold days," she concluded.

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito