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Mold investigation continues at Halifax County High School

In an effort to determine what degree mold is impacting Halifax County High School’s learning environment, HDH Technical Inc. of Christiansburg was scheduled to be at the school Tuesday afternoon inspecting the air quality inside and outside.

HDH provides environmental health and safety services and specializes in asbestos/lead survey, abatement design and project monitoring as well as indoor air quality assessments, according to Superintendent Dr. Merle Herndon, who along with Delegate James Edmunds were at the high school Tuesday morning looking for evidence of mold and mildew.

HDH’s inspection results are scheduled to be revealed at a special called school board meeting to be held at 5:30 p.m. today. 

Since first being announced on Thursday, the meeting’s location has been moved to the second floor public meeting room of the Mary Bethune Office Complex to accommodate the public who may attend, Herndon said. 

Although potential attendees have not notified the superintendent of their intent to come to the school board meeting, the public is invited and welcome to attend, she said.

Also at the high school Tuesday morning was one concerned parent who said she had felt like the public was not welcome at the special called meeting.

Herndon said that is not the case. 

The concerned parent who wished not to be identified said her child had been hospitalized for migraines, a high white cell blood count and respiratory problems. 

Some of the tests her child underwent during her hospitalization included strep throat, the flu and meningitis. All these tests came back negative. 

At the time of her child’s hospitalization, the parent said she was unaware of the potential mold problem at the high school and had not known to get the child tested for exposure to mold. 

It was last week that Director of Operations and Maintenance Larry Roller confirmed mold may be a problem at the high school saying suspicions arose while the roof replacement project was underway. 

During that time the school had to disconnect its exhaust fans, which he said could have been a contributing factor along with the wet weather.

“There was surface mildew found,” he added.

It has been cleaned, and he said last week he had inspected the entire high school building.

“I saw we had mildew, we cleaned and got rid of it. It’s more of what I consider a perception issue now,” Roller said.

The director met with Halifax County High School Principal Albert Randolph, faculty and central office staff Wednesday to address their concerns.

 “We asked them if they had any problems or concerns or if they see anything to let us know. It was a low percentage of concerns,” he added.

According to Roller, the mold problem was first brought to his attention at the end of July by an anonymous tip that there was mold in the girls locker room and in the A wing of the building.

That part of the building has no cooling in it, added Roller of the girls’ locker room.

Roller inspected everything and said he was unable to find any mold. It was only a couple weeks later when another complaint came about a ceiling tile that had gotten wet. Maintenance staff replaced the tile along with old insulation.

On the first day of school, a teacher complained of mildew on her door. By the time Roller got to the school, the high school staff had cleaned the surface, he said.

“I came in last Saturday and inspected everything very closely…doors, ceiling, above and HVAC,” said Roller. “The only way I was able to spot this stuff was with a flashlight.” 

Randolph said last Thursday morning that no mold is in the high school at this time. Dehumidifiers had been placed in the vents and in the girls’ locker room, and all vents had been cleaned, and affected tiles had been replaced.

Reacting to concerns about mold being responsible for respiratory and other breathing problems of students and faculty, ED-6 trustee Fay Satterfield said she called for the board to have tonight’s special meeting to discuss the mold problem at the high school.

“I am excited for people to come so that we can have multiple opinions on the matter. I want all the members to hear all the findings and accounts dealing with this issue,” Satterfield said Tuesday.

New information is expected to arise that the school board hasn’t received yet from the public, she said. 

And Satterfield fears “the issues have been there longer than we initially thought.” 

She also expressed concerns about a company that specializes in asbestos rather than mold being hired to inspect the school.

Satterfield feels the school board may need to get a second opinion on the high school’s air quality, and she hopes they will vote to hire an agency that specializes in mold to conduct another inspection. 

The school superintendent said Tuesday she has only had two reports of teachers relocating classrooms. One teacher was moved last year due to health concerns, and another was moved recently as a precaution. 

Herndon also reported knowledge of only one person connected to the high school being a patient at the hospital.

When contacted to determine the number of patients the hospital has treated for breathing or respiratory problems resulting from potential mold at the high school, Halifax Regional Hospital personnel said they could not comment at this time.  

“This is a serious issue. It may end up just being dust and mildew, but its better to know for sure,” said Satterfield. “Our next scheduled meeting isn’t until next Monday, so I called this special meeting because we need to act fast so that the parents and community can feel better about the situation.”