School district works to alleviate mold at Austin

School district works to alleviate mold at Austin by M. Jill Karolevitz As if a rash outbreak and a bomb threat at Vermillion High School, along with district-wide weather-related class cancellations aren�t enough, Vermillion school officials are now dealing with another challenge � mold at Austin School.

Leaking in the tunnels beneath the elementary school has been blamed for the problem, and the situation is now being alleviated by a thorough cleaning of the building, according to Superintendent Robert Mayer.

In a report presented to the Vermillion School Board Monday night, Mayer noted that the school district administration became aware of the mold problem on Dec. 15, 2000, after testing was conducted by Geotek Engineering & Testing Services, Inc. Geotek detected mold in the tunnels that house the school�s heating and water pipes.

School officials then consulted with Geotek, along with Bill Campbell, a �mold expert� from South Dakota State University.

�They said the mold is a problem, but it can be fixed,� Mayer said.

Several short- and long-range plans have been developed to rid the school of the mold problem now and prevent further incidents in the future:

Immediate action

? Interior Technicians conducted an inservice Jan. 18 with the school�s custodial staff to inform them as to how to thoroughly clean the entire school building;

? Interior Technicians Inc. began cleaning mold from the tunnels Jan. 22 (a four-day process);

? The entire main floor of the building was cleaned by school district custodial staff Jan. 20 and 22 (carpeted areas were hepa-vacuumed, a special solution was used to wipe down all surfaces, including desks and walls, unit ventilator filters were replaced and ventilator pipes were sealed with foam insulation);

? Leaking pipes were replaced by Turner Plumbing.

�Austin School has never been as clean as it is now,� Mayer said. �The custodial staff went over everything � even the gym. We�re also working with Johnson Controls to bring fresh air into the building and ventilate the tunnels.�

Long-range action

? Replace leaking pipes and pipe insulation;

�This would cost multi-thousands of dollars,� Mayer said, partly because asbestos (which has been sealed) insulates the pipes, so a specialist in asbestos removal would have to be hired;

? Use an ozone generator two or three times annually to purify air in the tunnels;

? Do landscape work in 2001 to keep water from flowing back into the building;

? Use ultraviolet light in the tunnels to prevent further mold growth.

Geotek tested Vermillion High School for mold last fall when a rash outbreak occurred. Jolley School was also tested at that time as a control. In a similar test, mold was detected later at Austin School.

A staff member had also approached Elementary Principal Mark Upward and complained about not feeling well. He said she had read a newspaper article about mold, which helped bring about the testing.

�Geotek will retest at Austin sometime in the first part of February to see if we got it cleaned up,� Mayer said.

Vermillion Middle School is also scheduled for mold testing.

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