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Expert: Samples confirm isolated mold growth; building in ‘good order’

Air inside Halifax County High School has lower airborne fungal concentrations than outdoor air, but some isolated areas inside the school did show mold growth.

These are the findings reported to Halifax County School Board members during their monthly meeting Monday night.

Dave Violette of HDH Technical, Inc. shared the mold findings of an initial indoor air quality assessment of Halifax County High School. Two other HDH employees inspected the building on Tuesday, Sept. 3.

“During our visit, we were given a list of rooms that teachers and students had concerns about by Mr. Albert Randolph and Mr. Larry Roller. We also inspected any other area that was brought to our attention while we were there,” said Violette. 

A total of 13 “spore-trap” air samples were collected and submitted to SanAir Technologies Laboratory, Inc. in Powhatan for mold analysis. Of the 13 samples collected, two were collected outdoors for comparison. 

“Some isolated areas showed growth of mold which is neither surprising nor uncommon in a building of that size. However, the air sampling results did not indicate any substantial current mold growth in the building as the air indoors has significantly lower airborne fungal concentrations than the outdoor air,” said Violette.  

Two specific affected areas Violette mentioned were a mechanical room and the seal of the refrigerator located in an art room. 

Overall, he concluded the building appears to be in “good order.” 

In response to cleaning the mold, Violette said “normal” cleaning products and methods would be sufficient.

Since attention was called to the high school mold problem, staff has cleaned all vents, affected tiles have been replaced, and dehumidifiers have been placed in the vents and girls’ locker room. 

According to Superintendent Dr. Merle Herndon, maintenance workers have since pulled-up all carpet in affected classrooms and placed tile on the floors. 

 “Personally, what I think you need now is basically a response plan,” Violette told school board members. “Within this plan, you could bring in someone like Mr. John Owen or myself to consult with you as you evaluate the existing HVAC system, consider ways to control the humidity such as adding economizers and consider adding access panels to the duct work.” 

As part of an immediate response, Principal Albert Randolph presented the board with procedures to be implemented at the high school until further notice. 

Maintenance will not be handled during the school day including tile removal, minor leak repairs, etc. 

 All leaks will be reported to the principal and associate principal including location, time and area affected. 

 Completed repairs will be documented to principal and associate principal upon completion. 

 Daily tracking of students and faculty will be in place for affected individuals. 

 Weekly meetings will be held with the superintendent, maintenance director and secondary supervisor to address mold concerns. The school board chairman and vice chairman will be informed of the meetings. 

 Parents, faculty and students are requested to report any mold concerns to the principal and/or associate principal. 

Herndon followed up on Violette’s suggestions questioning the board whether they want to seek a person like John Owen to lead this project or if the board wants to interview other individuals. 

Owen, a retired specialist who headed the investigation and clean-up of Jefferson Forest High School in Bedford County back in 2001, inspected the school prior to the special called school board meeting last Wednesday and offered his guidance on a solution to the mold problem during the meeting.

 “I believe this is something we need to go ahead and address because I don’t think we can move forward until we know who is going to drive the boat on this,” Herndon said. 

ED-1 school board member Phyllis Smith made a motion to the board to hire Owen to lead the project, and ED-6 trustee Fay Satterfield seconded the motion that was approved 7-1 with ED-8 representative Walter Potts Jr. casting the dissenting vote.

ED-7 school board member and Vice-Chairman Richard Stoneman informed board members Owen will be paid $125 an hour “to help the board and give us a plan on the next action we need to take.”

Potts described the hiring of Owen before looking at other applicants as “irresponsible.” 

“I think we need to look at several people that may be interested in doing this project,” Potts said. “When we spoke to Mr. Owen, we did not have the information on the actual conditions of the school. I don’t understand why we’re making a motion to hire one guy without looking and seeing who is the best for the job.” 

Chairman Kimberly Farson reminded the board, “We need to move on this.” 

“From what I understand, Owen comes with great credentials,” Stoneman added. “If in an event, we do not like this man’s findings, he is paid hourly, therefore we can simply terminate him.” 

At the conclusion of Monday night’s open board meeting, Potts reminded all attending if it turns out that the board does not have the money in their budget to complete this project, then they will be forced to ask the board of supervisors for additional funding. 

“We are going to need your help in making sure that we get that money if more is needed,” the ED- trustee said.