Regional School Unit 38 officials agreed to test the remainder of Manchester Elementary School after additional water damage and potential mold spores were found during tests earlier this week.

The decision to test nearly 20 additional classrooms and the remaining hallways and corridors came during a meeting of the RSU 38 school board’s facilities committee Thursday. Testing will take place Monday, and officials said results should be available 10 to 14 days later.

“I think it was a great discussion, and I think we’ve worked well together to come up with a plan,” Superintendent Donna Wolfrom said by phone Friday. “I’m very happy with the plan moving forward.”

Wolfrom said the additional round of testing will cost the district nearly $4,500, which will come from this year’s budget. Any classrooms or areas that require immediate cleaning or remediation will be paid from this year’s maintenance budget, and the work would be completed over the upcoming February break. Work in rooms or areas determined to be dusty and in need of a thorough cleaning would occur this summer and would be paid for using next year’s budget.

The superintendent said the district will follow the recommendations of Air Quality Management Services, of Gray, which has done all the air quality testing at the school since November.

“If they think something needs to be done immediately, we will do it,” Wolfrom said.

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.

Since elevated levels of mold were discovered in the basement and in several classrooms in November and December, parents and other community members had been calling for the district to order the testing of the entire 64-year-old school. The district announced testing of additional classrooms and the stage area at last week’s board meeting; those tests revealed visible water damage in the stage area, prompting its immediate closure.

“I think we all felt comfortable with the plan that was agreed upon last night, but there is no doubt we all wished this would have been the plan from the very beginning,” said parent Michelle Bragg. “At this point, we are grateful they are doing what they’ve agreed to do.”

The district first became aware of a potential problem at Manchester Elementary when the school nurse reported a strange smell in the basement in late October. Subsequent testing, cleaning and remediation in November and December showed mold in the basement and elevated levels of a few specific mold spores in three classrooms.

The district has been publicly criticized for a lack of communication with families and staff throughout the process. The first email alerting parents to the air quality problem was sent Nov. 28 — but never mentioned that mold had been found — and the second communication talking about the cleaning process was sent in early January.

Communication has improved in the past few weeks, Bragg said, but it will take time to rebuild the trust in the district and administration many felt has eroded the last few months. She said they have received a strong commitment from the district and staff about communication and transparency.

“We are beginning to rebuild the trust in the administration, but I think there is still a long way to go,” Bragg said. “We need to see the results and see how this is carried out, but if it happens, it will speak volumes to the parents.”

Craig and Stephanie Garofalo, the parents of a 6-year-old who has experienced bouts of coughing and wheezing since September that could be the result of mold exposure, have been critical of the district’s handling of the problem from the beginning. Craig Garofalo was invited to sit with the facilities committee during Thursday’s meeting, and he said he came away looking toward the future.

“I left the meeting feeling better than I have since the whole incident started, and I felt like the voices of the parents were heard,” he said Friday by email. “I appreciated that we were invited and solicited for our opinions.”

Garofalo said this was the first time the communication was an open dialogue in which everyone got to express a desired outcome. But he said there still seems to be some mistrust.

“It was still apparent at the meeting last night there is anxiety and deep concerns under the surface with some parents in regards to the handling of the entire process,” he said. “I am concerned that this entire event has caused some deep wounds within our community that is going to take some time before they heal.”

Wolfrom said if the worst-case scenario happens and mold is discovered in additional classrooms or areas of the campus, students could be relocated temporarily to Readfield Elementary School or Maranacook Community Middle School.

“It’s something we have to think of and be prepared for,” she said. “I’m sure it would be difficult for the students and everybody, but if we had to do that for the immediate safety of the students, we would do that.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

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Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ