Mold continues at Austin, but plan in place for further steps to help alleviate problem

Mold continues at Austin, but plan in place for further steps to help alleviate problem by M. Jill Karolevitz Persistence will be the key as school officials continue their work to fight the mold problem at Austin School.

Scott Hanson, buildings and grounds director for Vermillion Schools, was given the green light by the Vermillion School Board to continue with a plan developed by Geotek Engineering & Testing Services, Inc., after the firm tested the school last February.

Mold was first detected in the tunnels beneath Austin late last year. After a thorough cleaning of the tunnels and the main floor of the building, along with the replacement of leaking pipes that were thought to be the cause of the problem, the school was tested again.

But, as Superintendent Robert Mayer reported April 9 to the Vermillion School Board, �we still have some mold issues to deal with.�

�When Geotek tested the school in February, the mold counts were down significantly in the classrooms,� Hanson said. �We feel we got that under control to a certain extent. But there�s still room for improvement. The mold counts are also down in the tunnels. Unfortunately, they�re not as low as we�d like to see them. And that�s where we stand today.�

Hanson reported to the school board that he is following up on the Geotek plan and its suggestions for further action against the mold. The plan, and actions taken by school officials include:

? Perform additional cleaning in the boiler room and ductwork during the summer.

Interior Technicians have inspected the boiler room, along with ductwork that needs to be cleaned, and will report back to Hanson on the cost of the project.

? Ventilate the tunnels.

The school board gave Hanson the go-ahead to have a ventilation system installed, which, after thorough research, he found would be most effective.

�I recommend that we ventilate the tunnels,� he said. �An architectural firm in Omaha has designed a system and I think it will be money well spent since we�re dealing with the health of the people in that building.

�We�re moving the air with house fans, which helps, but it�s still hot and humid down there,� he continued. �This system has very large fans that draw fresh air into the tunnels and exhausts it out the chimney of the boiler room. It will basically deter the growth of the mold by keeping the air moving and keeping the humidity down. The system is not foolproof, but it�s a step in the right direction.�

? Periodically check for leaks in the tunnels.

Hanson noted that this will be done every quarter as preventative maintenance.

? Follow written protocol regarding indoor air quality.

�We will follow guidelines set by the EPA and document problems throughout the entire school district,� Hanson said. �I�m doing research now to find a way to track indoor air quality problems in our buildings and how to investigate them to determine the cause. I�m sure we�ll have something in place by next fall.�

? Check under the carpets in Austin School for mold.

The carpets are just three years old, according to Mayer, and Hanson noted that the type of molds found in carpets laid on concrete are not present. The recommendation is to continue cleaning them thoroughly with hepa vacuums, rather than replace them.

? Keep heating/air conditioning system on during the summer and long breaks.

Maintaining air quality year-round can possibly be accomplished if the building is kept at a constant temperature. This plan is still under consideration.

? Inspect unit ventilators in each classroom at Austin.

�Each one was checked during Easter break to make sure they were working properly and bringing in fresh air like they are supposed to do,� Hanson said. �They were all okay.�

He added that all the units will be cleaned this summer and landscaping around the building will be redone to reduce the dirt around the air intakes.

? Establish a cleaning plan and attend sessions on indoor air quality training.

This summer, Hanson�s staff will attend seminars concerning different methods of cleaning. He is also looking into indoor air quality classes taught by officials from the University of Minnesota.

�It�s possible that we can get staff from other schools in the area to get involved and keep the costs down,� Hanson said.

? Install ultraviolet lights or use ozone generators.

Hanson�s research has found that neither of these are effective and he does not recommend their use.

? Further testing.

Geotek will conduct random tests in the next few months to see if any of the procedures used have been successful in alleviating the mold problem.

As time has gone by since mold was first detected at Austin, Hanson is satisfied with the progress being made to fight the problem.

�You�re never going to get rid of it 100 percent,� he said. �But it can be managed. I think we�ve made good strides on the first go-around, and now we�ve got a good handle on where to go from here. The goals are obtainable and the school will have a lot better air quality in the fall.

�There is nothing there (at Austin) that can�t be corrected,� he added. �But it takes time. It took years for the building to reach the condition it has been in, so it will take awhile to get it back to where it is supposed to be.�

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