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District Works to Resolve Mold Problems in FHN

Alyssa Barber and Taylor Perry

By Sarah Zimmerman, FHNtoday Staffer

Video: Mold was found in three different areas of FHN. Jani Wilkens’ room, Melissa Hanrahan’s room and a band room. The mold in the school affected the teachers more than anyone else.

She had already found chirping baby birds in the ceiling and leaks in the air vent in the past, so it was no surprise when she discovered mold in her classroom. Although only non-toxic, allergenic mold was discovered, English teacher Jani Wilkens still had to move out of her “home away from home” to teach in a clean classroom.

“I definitely feel put out and frustrated, but I also had to take a step back and see what really matters,” Wilkens said when she initially moved out. “I have students and I can teach them. I still have a room and people are going out of their way to make sure I have all the resources I need in the room, so, in the end, it’s annoying, but it’s not the end of the world.”

Wilkens was not the only one frustrated, though, because she was not the only teacher moved out of their room due to the mold. The testing for mold occurred a couple of days before school even started, after a few teachers indicated concern about odors in their rooms. Intertek PSI, a testing company, then immediately investigated these rooms.

“We outsourced the testing of the mold because we don’t have that level of expertise within our district, so we actually use a company where that is their area of expertise,” Superintendent Mary Hendricks-Harris said.

The company tested the mold levels in the air and then compared that to the mold levels outside at that time. If the mold levels inside the building are higher than the natural mold levels outdoors, then that indicates mold growth. Positive results for allergenic mold came back for several rooms at FHN including marketing teacher Melissa Hanrahan’s room, English teacher Jani Wilkens’ room, the learning commons and band practice room 60A.

According to Intertek PSI, Wilkens’ room revealed high surface mold levels of two types: Cladosporium and Hyphal Fragments. Her room also had elevated levels of the airborne fungal mold Aspergillus/Penicillium with 920 fungal spores per cubic meter of air, compared to the Missouri average of 230 fungal spores per cubic meter of air. Similarly, Hanrahan’s room and the band practice room also had higher levels of Aspergillus/Penicillium mold in the air. Although the learning commons also had high levels of a few mold types, the mold was only surface mold, which workers quickly cleaned. However, there did not appear to be increased levels of mold within the other representative areas sampled throughout the school.

After receiving these initial results, the District immediately moved the teachers with infected rooms to new, unaffected spaces. They also chose to have further testing within FHN, hire a firm to carry out the cleanup and begin implementing Intertek PSI’s Fungal Remediation Plan to help eradicate the mold problem.

“We’re always very sensitive to our students and staff always having a great learning and work environment,” Kevin Supple, FHSD chief operating officer, said. “As soon as we were notified of some issues, we took immediate action. We’re working as quickly as we can once the remediation plan was developed to implement it and get those rooms cleaned. I feel that we’re following our standard protocols, which is to be responsive to staff concerns where there are issues that arise and to work very quickly to ensure that our students and staff members have a great place to work and to learn.”

The District determined that the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system (HVAC) should be adjusted to bring down humidity levels and that they needed to seal and clean the rooms with mold.

Not only that, but as roof construction was already underway for other reasons, Supple hopes that there will be fewer leaks, which would help prevent mold from growing. Lowering the humidity in the school will also make the mold less likely to grow. In order to sufficiently clean the classes infected, the HVAC systems there were turned off, the rooms were sealed with a barrier and air filtration devices were placed in each infected room to filter the air. A team also went in to clean all the hard surfaces to remove any mold spores that could be present. They replaced any furniture or tiles that may have been affected.

“It hasn’t been a risk to the health or safety of our students or staff, but [there is] the inconvenience of not being in your typical learning space,” Supple said. “That’s something we’re aware of, and we want to get the teachers and students back to their regular classrooms as quickly as possible.”

Regardless, teachers and students worked through the mold problem and were able to return to their rooms a couple weeks later. Meanwhile, the District continues working to remedy the situation to prevent mold from growing in the future.

“The environment is a lot better in the classroom,” junior Noe Bustos said. “Wilk’s room is really nice. It’s like a mini home for her and she likes her students to feel that way, so it does feel good to be back in there, but I didn’t mind being in the other room as long as I was learning. I’m glad that [the mold] was being looked at as a problem and it just shows our district does resolve these kinds of problems when it comes to student safety.”