Additional air quality testing prompted by the discovery of mold at Manchester Elementary School revealed water damage and a recommendation to close the stage area at the school, according to an email sent to parents this week.

No mold was observed on the water-damaged surfaces of the stage area, Air Quality Management Services, Inc. president Randy Geoffroy said, but he recommended the school err on the side of caution by closing the stage area until remediation can be completed. He also said mold might be on the back side of the water-damaged surfaces, but that won’t be known until those surfaces are removed and tested.

Regional School Unit 38 officials and school administration have been dealing with a mold problem on the nearly 70-year-old campus since late October, when the school nurse reported a strange smell in the basement. Subsequent testing found mold spores in the basement and three classrooms, which were cleaned and remediated over the winter break.

An email to parents and the staff, sent Monday from Principal Janet Delmar, included correspondence between Geoffroy and the district’s director of operations and transportation, Curt Morse, and several pages of airborne fungal spore analysis.

Geoffroy, of Air Quality Management in Gray, said there was no significant evidence of mold or atypical mold levels in the air and surface dust samplings from the four classrooms, two hallways, stage and multi-purpose room that were tested.

However, Geoffroy said, there were minor elevations of common outdoor-type mold spores, commonly seen in winter, in some samples. Varying levels of mold spores, he said, were identified in settled dust; the spores were common outdoor types, and the spore levels were higher in some areas, probably because of greater amounts of dust.

Mold is a naturally occurring, necessary part of the environment that can be found everywhere, the Maine Indoor Air Quality Council states on its website. Symptoms of mold exposure are allergylike, including coughing, wheezing and nasal stuffiness, according to an allergist and immunologist at MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta.

There are no federal health standards for mold, but the state uses indoor air quality standards from the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as a guide for air quality, David Heidrich, spokesman for the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services, said via email.

Geoffroy also recommended the stage area be isolated from other areas of the building with protective barriers. He said water-damaged wallboard, insulation, ceiling and flooring should be removed 4 feet in all directions from the areas of visible water damage, and he said all exposed surfaces should be cleaned and treated to remove any mold growth as a pro-active measure.

Superintendent Donna Wolfrom said test results and recommendations will be discussed during a facilities committee meeting Thursday. Wolfrom met with Morse on Wednesday morning to talk about plans to ensure the safety of the school’s occupants, but she did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

Jeremy Payne, who has three children at the school, has been one of the more outspoken critics of the way the district and school administration handled the mold problem since October. He and other parents have asked repeatedly that the entire school be tested, but so far, that hasn’t been a part of the district’s plans.

“My hope was finding mold in the basement and classrooms above them would’ve created enough concern to test the entire school at that point,” Payne said via email. “Identifying additional locations of concern only hardens my belief that we must be the sure the entire school is safe, and that can only be determined by testing the entire school.”

Payne and Craig Garofalo, a parent of a first-grader who has experienced bouts of coughing and wheezing since September, have been invited to attend the facilities committee during Thursday’s meeting. Garofalo’s wife, Stephanie, said she hopes parents will hear whether the rest of the school will be tested.

Learning that additional areas of the school need to be remediated reinforces that the community’s concerns are well-founded, Payne said. He said nobody wants to send the school or the testing company on a “wild goose chase,” but he said there is a cost-effective and simple way to ensure the safety of the school by testing the whole thing.

“If it’s unsafe, then we must move our kids, teachers and staff as soon as possible,” he said. “If the testing comes back okay, then we can breathe a sigh of relief and know we’ve ensured the health of our children and teachers.”

One of the parents’ major concerns is about how the district communicated with them throughout the process. Last week, Delmar committed himself to providing timely updates in the future — including test results when the school receives them.

Payne said parents received the most recent test report in a timely manner, but he said there are still some questions about how information will be shared with the community.

“It’s unfortunate and unnecessary that the parents had to demand a meeting with the principal, superintendent and school board to get the leadership’s attention,” he said. “What if the school doesn’t have all the email addresses for all the parents, how do these families get all the relevant information?”

Wolfrom has said that any additional testing plans would have to be discussed first by the facilities committee and then the board’s finance committee. Payne said he suspects many families would be willing to contribute financially to ensure the entire school is tested and deemed a “healthy learning environment for kids, teachers and staff.”

“This is a learning opportunity, and being content with how this was handled is unacceptable,” he said. “They made a number of mistakes which cannot be repeated. The truth is never wrong.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

 

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