Mold report expected next week
Cost to test school rises to $48,000
BY MICHAEL ERB, The Island Packet
Published Tuesday, November 5th, 2002


Parents and school officials hope to finally learn if mold problems exist in Hilton Head Elementary School when findings from a nearly two-week air quality study are presented next week.


Executive Principal Mary Briggs said the report by AAA Environmental, a Spartanburg-based air quality testing company, will be presented at 7 p.m. Nov. 11 in the school's Red Building cafeteria. A short question and answer session probably will follow, she said.


District representatives, including Briggs and Superintendent Herman Gaither, received a preliminary report from the group Monday. John Williams, spokesman for the district, said few results from the testing were available.


"They are still working on their results, but didn't have the report ready for us today," he said. "They told us they've tested roughly 45 percent of the rooms at Hilton Head Elementary, including those rooms identified by parents and staff as potential trouble spots."
The tests were conducted in September in response to parent and staff concerns over possible mold contamination in the elementary school. Machines were used to take air samples from a random selection of rooms in the school and petri dishes were placed in various air vents in order to grow mold samples, then collected later.
A culinary arts classroom at Hilton Head Middle School, where rats were found to be nesting in the ceiling this past summer, also was tested.


AAA's cost for testing in the two schools has nearly doubled from earlier estimates, up from $25,000 to $48,000, Donna Altman, assistant superintendent of fiscal affairs, said Monday. The cost includes a week-and-a-half of testing, the cost of samples, lab work and the final report and presentation.


Parents have asked the Beaufort County school board to look into the possibility of mold contamination at the elementary school and have suggested getting a second opinion by having another company do tests, too. Board members have said they will wait until AAA reports its findings before taking the next step.


Briggs said the report probably will be given to the school's staff for discussion before the Nov. 11 meeting. Parents already have been informed of the meeting and the report in letters sent home last week, she said.


Williams said AAA made few preliminary suggestions about maintenance at Monday's meeting.


"The preliminary recommendation they have made in the past is to examine the use of carpeting in the schools and to remove it if possible, especially if it is dirty," he said. "I would guess that you will see that echoed when they submit their final report."


Williams said there also was some discussion as to the age of the school's heating and air conditioning system, though he declined to comment on specific suggestions.


"Once we get their report and have (the Nov. 11) meeting, we will attempt to create an executive summary to share with the public," which will contain the group's findings and suggestions, he said.
Hilton Head Elementary is not the only school to face mold problems in recent months.


Battery Creek High School recently was investigated by the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the state Department of Health and Environmental Control for air quality concerns. The investigation came after the school board approved a cleaning project for air ducts in the school's heating and air conditioning system and approved spending $2.7 million to install a dehumidifying system to slow the growth of mold in the building.


A wing of the school was evacuated last week after staff members and a student became ill from the chemicals being used to clean the building's ductwork. Altman said the crews used a combination of an anti-bacterial cleaning agent and a sealing agent called Portercept. The sealing agent is believed to have caused the illnesses, she said.


Cleaning crews will now work on weekends to avoid exposing staff or students to chemicals and irritants.

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