Last year’s soggy summer led to some expensive mold cleanup bills for two local school districts and more monitoring by all districts.
Milton Area had to delay the opening of school for two weeks, to Sept. 6, after mold was found in all five district buildings. Environmental companies spent a month in the schools, mitigating humidity and mold damage and repairing aging HVAC systems.
Selinsgrove Area started school on time but closed part of the middle school until the mold was cleared.
The bill to the Milton district totaled $1.48 million — nearly $1 million less than the original $2.4 million bill after district officials said they disputed some of the costs with two of the four contractors.
Mold remediation at the Selinsgrove district’s middle school totaled $44,870 and at the intermediate school, $78,966, for a total cost of $123,836, according to district Business Manager Jeffrey H. Hummel.
Both districts still are seeking reimbursement from their insurance companies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.
“At this point in time, the district continues to actively communicate and work toward an insurance-claims resolution with our insurance broker, Keystone- Pfeiffer-Naginey Insurance and insurance provider, Liberty Mutual Insurance Company,” Milton Area Superintendent Cathy Keegan said. “To date, the district has received no insurance funds for the mold remediation claim. We continue to wait for a response from FEMA or PEMA. The school district has provided generous amounts of information to all of these agencies in an effort to receive reimbursement.”
She said all mold remediation invoices have been posted on the district website since the fall and are continually updated as bills are received.
Said Hummel, “Our insurance did not pay any of the mold costs, and we are still waiting to hear from FEMA and PEMA.”
Meanwhile, those and other Valley school districts have enacted changes to try to prevent the problem in the future.
More testing, monitoring
While Danville Area did not have the mold problems Milton and Selinsgrove had, Danville Superintendent Jason Bendle said the district still is working to prevent any mold from blooming.
“We always budget for unforeseeable conditions,” Bendle said. “We will continue to test all of our buildings for mold and will be running our air handlers online 24 hours a day, as needed, during the wet season.”
Keegan said the district continues to collaborate with Mountain Research, NRG Controls North, The Architectural Studios and Strunk Albert Engineering on how to best prepare for hot, humid, moist weather conditions.
“We have changed our internal equipment maintenance and monitoring processes, completed recommissioning of all HVAC systems, changed our cleaning solution based on a recommendation from Mountain Research, added the monitoring of humidity levels in areas that were identified as problematic during our mold crisis, and purchased industrial dehumidifiers because our HVAC systems do not have dehumidification capabilities,” Keegan said.
She added Strunk Albert Engineering is completing a comprehensive audit of the district’s HVAC systems to develop a recommendations plan.
Selinsgrove district Superintendent Chad Cohrs said the district has made some maintenance changes.
“We have not included any additional funds in the budget specifically for mold,” he said. “Mold had not been an issue in prior years, and we are hopeful that it will not occur again. We have revised some of our maintenance practices, including running all air conditioning units for periods of time each day over the summer.”
Cohrs said the district also modified carpet cleaning procedures and began using a disinfecting sprayer.
“The Warrior Run School District has a commercial dehumidification system controlled by a digital management system in the middle school,” said district Buildings and Grounds Supervisor Gary Williams.
“We also have portable dehumidifiers that can be placed in areas that may have high humidity.”
Shikellamy School District did not have any major mold concerns, just a couple of minor ones, according to Doug Benick, the district’s buildings and grounds director.
“We had two minor concerns in late summer that were addressed by our custodial staff, with direction and products from Hillyard Inc. and Mountain Environmental,” Benick said.
He said the staff ran dehumidifiers and used a Protexus Elecstatic machine to disinfect the schools. A disinfectant tablet is put in the water in the machine and it sprays the disinfectant liquid on surfaces.
“We budget for air quality testing each year,” said Shikellamy’s Substitute Superintendent Thomas Scholvin. “Mountain Environmental is our contractor.”
In the Lewisburg Area School District, the staff is taking more preventative steps in the mold wars.
“We have become more proactive with respect to preventing mold growth,” said Superintendent Steven Skalka. “Each head custodian has been provided a handheld humidity monitor and have been monitoring humidity weekly.
“Supervisor of Building and Grounds Delbert Gallegos has also worked with our building automation technician from Siemens. We now have two humidity sensors per building, and as the high school was recently constructed, it has the most up-to-date HVAC systems, providing each classroom with humidity monitoring, as well.”
Skalka said humidity of 65 percent or higher in a building provides conditions for mold growth, so between the handheld monitors and the building sensors, district officials are confident they will have a greater advanced warning regarding taking preventative actions.
Mifflinburg Area School District Superintendent Dan Lichtel said the staff is on the lookout for mold.
“We have not had much of a problem with mold in our schools,” Lichtel said. “We are watchful of conditions that could impact air quality, and our buildings and grounds department works hard to monitor this and keep our air systems operating appropriately to assist with this. Of course, that doesn’t mean we would never experience a problem with mold, so we need to be sure to monitor school environments carefully.”
He added, “We do not make special budgetary provisions for this, although we do budget for preventative maintenance and repairs in a broad sense.”
Midd-West Superintendent Rick Musselman said mold has not been a problem in that district.
“Our HVAC systems are always on, monitoring temperature and humidity,” Musselman said. “In the summer, we go to a four 10-hour-day work week and the temperatures are adjusted to save energy. We don’t turn off the AC, but the temperature is set to unoccupied, which is a few degrees warmer than when occupied.”
He said the middle school is now the oldest school since the district renovated West Snyder Elementary, so the system at the middle school has fewer capabilities than in the other schools.
“When other school districts were reporting mold last year, we tested the middle school and the tests came back negative for mold,” Musselman said.
“Typically, if you have mold, it’s because maybe you have inappropriate humidity or conditions in your school that allows mold to grow,” Musselman said. “School districts may want to improve some of those systems to prevent that.”
Said Milton’s Keegan, “We realize we have aging HVAC systems, not possessing dehumidification capabilities, which requires a different type of response depending on temperature and humidity levels.
“The district will continue to access our expert partners to discuss our preparedness, and plan for action to avoid any recurring problems.”