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Faculty, parents, students urged to communicate concerns on mold

An expert specialist in mold and mildew advised Halifax County School Board members to treat the high school mold just as they would if their spouse worked in the building or their children attended classes there.

The advice came during a special called meeting that drew a crowd of approximately 50 parents, faculty, students and school officials who filled the second floor public meeting room of the Mary Bethune office complex in Halifax on Wednesday night to hear an update on the mold situation at Halifax County High School.

Last week 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 this summer. 

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 Wednesday night special school board meeting to discuss and learn more about the mold problem.

After welcoming those attending the meeting, E-D 3 trustee and Chairman Kim Farson immediately turned the floor over to John Owen, a retired specialist who headed the investigation and clean-up of Jefferson Forest High School in Bedford County back in 2001.

Farson said Owen has been instrumental in helping with mold issues at various other schools as well. 

“The main focus of the board was to look for an outside source, not with local ties to Halifax but to pull in a neutral party. I first began speaking with Owen this past Saturday,” Farson said as she introduced him to the crowd.

Owen upfront acknowledged he has no hidden agenda and mold is indeed present in the high school.

 “I have no connection to the high school and have no agenda. I want parents to take comfort in the fact that I approach each project with the mindset of what if my wife worked there or what if my daughter attended,” he said.

Prior to Wednesday’s meeting, Owen said he spent two to three hours at the high school inspecting affected areas. 

 “This is not a unique case; I’ve dealt with similar situations before. We are currently waiting on lab results, but I will say with certainty that mold is present.” 

He explained 33-year-old building is in need of updates. 

 “The building’s HVAC system does not adequately remove water. It does not know how much humidity is in the building and does not react to the humidity levels that occur,” said Owen.

Owen continued educating the crowd on mold and its correlation with humidity levels saying, “mold is everywhere, and there is always a higher probability when you have a tightened up building that has gotten wet.”

That is exactly what happened at the high school, the school director of operations and maintenance said last week admitting that while the summer roof replacement project was underway the school disconnected its exhaust fans. That was a contributing factor to the spread of mold along with the wet weather, he said.

“In buildings that are ventilated at a high rate that has trapped water combined with high humidly outside, you will trap mold,” Owen said. “Once you trap mold in the building with moisture, it finds its way to reproduce which then grows primarily on items such as paper, wood and ceiling tiles.”

The amount, type and procedure for cleaning the mold remain yet to be determined, according to Owen who said awaits lab results. 

In an effort to determine what degree mold is impacting Halifax County High School’s learning environment, HDH Technical Inc. of Christiansburg inspected the air quality inside and outside.

HDH provides environmental health and safety service and specializes in asbestos/lead survey, abatement design and project monitoring as well as indoor air quality assessments, according to Superintendent Dr. Merle Herndon.

ED-2 trustee Karen Hopkins questioned whether the current cleaning of the school as well as adding dehumidifiers would benefit. 

Owen confirmed those actions would benefit some. 

 “That would help in the given room but is not a grand solution. Every time you remove a gallon of water, it is helpful,” he added.

Owen urged parents, faculty and students to track the heath of affected patients by keeping records of symptoms and areas where symptoms began. 

ED-5 Dr. Roger Long and Farson agreed. 

The public was not given an opportunity to comment, and at the conclusion of Owen’s presentation trustees took no action but did encourage citizens to communicate their concerns to school board members.

 “We want to be an open book; there is no reason to hide anything,” Farson said. 

The school superintendent concluded the meeting telling the audience, “The bottom line is we want our schools safe. It’s the whole reason we’re here.”