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Mold finds sanctuary in high school auditorium

By ANDREA FURLONG

A mold commonly found in basements is growing on the ceiling, walls and possibly floor of the Williamsburg High School auditorium.

The mold was discovered by staff members while preparing the auditorium for a teacher workshop 17 days ago. The auditorium was ruled out as the setting for the workshop, after school employees spotted clusters of dark-colored growths on the 30 foot tall ceiling.

Two types of mold were discovered by the district’s insurance company, EMC Insurance, Des Moines. Both penicillium/aspergillus and cladosporium are relatively common molds that are often found in showers, basements or on bread. They are considered to have low toxicity levels, but may pose problems for people with asthma or mold allergies.

“On a scale from 1 to 10, I would probably put them at a 2 (for toxicity), but it really depends on the person’s tolerance to mold,” said Americlean Project Manager Steve Todd.

High humidity levels allowed the mold to grow during the summer, according to EMC Insurance Industrial Hygenist Dave Havick. Havick and Todd said humidity levels of 60 or higher trigger the mold to grow. The auditorium’s humidity levels registered at 60 percent, shortly after the discovery.

“When you grabbed those curtains, you actually felt like you were touching a sponge — they were that wet,” Todd said.

Todd, who works for the company that will remove the mold, theorized a blockage in the school’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system is to blame for the high humidity levels. In examining the system last week, Todd said he noticed one of the auditorium’s air ducts (located underneath the auditorium floor) was not working properly.

“That particular return was not drawing. There was not air pulling out of that return, so something had to be blocking it,” he said.

Todd believes an accumulation of groundwater in the duct may be responsible for the blockage, but said Americlean cannot confirm that theory until examining the duct itself.

The Williamsburg School Board held a special meeting on a solution to the mold Monday, Aug. 31. While board members did not approve Americlean’s approximately $70,000 bid for mold removal during the meeting, Williamsburg Superintendent Carol Montz said they later called her to give their consent toward the bid.

The mold removal will involve vacuuming by high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) machines to the majority of the auditorium’s interior, including the ceiling, walls and floor. Anti-microbial sealants will be applied to the areas after cleaning to kill any mold particles still present. Todd noted while the sealant will kill existing mold particles, it cannot prevent new mold particles from forming on the sealed surfaces. Todd said the district’s best bet to ward off potential mold growth is to keep the humidity levels below 60 percent in the auditorium. The most recent tests show the auditorium’s humidity levels at 49 percent, according to Havick.

Americlean (located in five Iowa cities) is expected to seal off the auditorium Wednesday, in order to contain the mold. Mold remediation will begin by next week and should be finished within two weeks, according to Todd. 

Superintendent Montz said she has every reason to believe the auditorium will be decontaminated and available for its Oct. 20 fall concert.

“We hope to have it cleaned up by the end of September, if not sooner. We don’t anticipate it interfering with any currently scheduled events,” she said.

The mold removal is anticipated to cost the district $67,802. Should the board later decide to clean the interior of contaminated ductwork, the bill will increase by approximately $25,490. The district will pay for the removal with money from its capital projects fund, which has a current balance of approximately $422,000 (with impending bills figured in).

UPDATED September 3, 2009 12:28 PM

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