WTAJ News investigates mold problems in Central PA schools

The hum of a dehumidifier is background music for band practice at Southern Huntingdon County High School Middle School.

But it’s part of the plan to keep these students safe.

“The first thing that went through my mind was this is a serious problem that’s going to take a lot of commitment, it’s going to take a lot of money and it’s going to take a lot of communication,” Southern Huntingdon County School District Dwayne Northcraft said as he recalls the moment teachers started reporting mold in their classrooms.

It started in August. First Rockhill Elementary and then the High School Middle School.

“I noticed a few specks on the board,” explains Instruction Coach Justin Robinson. He found mold while setting up his office.

It was one of 33 rooms that tested positive for elevated spore count levels.  

WTAJ Chief Joe Murgo isn’t surprised.

“We had record warmth, it was also record moisture in the air, the dew point temperature way higher than average and when you head into when school’s going back into session all of a sudden the air’s cooling and it’s still warm enough though at night that you have perfect conditions for the mold to grow,” said Murgo.

“Early on we thought we had three rooms that were needing to work on and then we discovered there were more,” Dubois Area School District Superintendent Dr. Luke Lansberry said.

The Dubois Area School District found mold in about a dozen rooms like the pool and on tables in the cafeteria.

“On bookcases, and cabinets kind of like the ones you see behind me, on the sides or on the tables,” explains Dr. Lansberry.

One of the problem areas for the Southern Huntingdon County High School Middle School was the band storage area. That’s where they mold on old leather instrument cases, and had to get rid up of about 20 of them.

“Number one, we did not want to introduce any mold spores back into the environment which had just been abated,” said Northcraft. “And it was more cost effective to for us to get rid of the old cases and buy new than to pay a high hourly rate to the abatement company.”

Both school districts acted fast, and with good reason. Some people are sensitive to mold.

According the Centers for Disease Control common symptoms are stuffy nose, wheezing, and red or itchy eyes, or skin.

Exposure to mold can also give you a fever or shortness of breath, and even lead to asthma.

“It’s important to make sure that we’re on top of these things,” said Dr. Lansberry.

Both school districts are now using dehumidifiers to reduce moisture.

But they immediately closed their schools to remediate the mold.

Dubois high school middle missed three days and the high school missed five.

Students in Southern Huntingdon missed seven.

Southern Huntingdon tested more than 90 rooms and showed WTAJ their test results plus the last letter from the mold remediation company, giving the school district the all clear.

It’s expected to cost the school district between $150-200,000. Dubois also says it’s exceeded $100,000.

Superintendent Northcraft wants to make sure this doesn’t happen again, “So we are looking at a heat reclamation system that would probably not cost a lot more than it did to clean up the mold,” he says.  

Spending money to hopefully save money in the future and keep students in tune with their studies without fear of mold.

Dubois Area School District Revised their school calendar, adding days to the end of their year. The high school will end on June 6th and the middle school’s last day is June 4th.

Southern Huntingdon depleted all of their snow days and right now are expected to end at their regularly schedule date.
 

CLICK HERE to find resources about mold remediation in schools and commercial buildings.

You can also find more information from the EPA, HERE

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