Western Hills High School accelerates mold cleanup
By Martha Deller
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

BENBROOK -- Cleanup will intensify this week at Western Hills High School where hidden mold was uncovered last year after a construction-related air conditioning outage aggravated old flooding damage in 26 basement classrooms.

American Environmental, which cleaned mold from two other schools last summer, will complete work begun by district employees after the mold was detected at Western Hills last fall, said Mike Lee, the district's lead environmental coordinator.

The project includes tearing out and cleaning sheetrock walls, replacing water-damaged ceiling tiles and cabinets, removing carpet and laying floor tile and replacing vinyl wallpaper with paint. It will cost about $120,000, Lee said.

Lee said Deputy Superintendent Walter Dansby authorized hiring a contractor because district maintenance employees, interupted by other work and the holidays, had completed only two rooms since early December.

"I said, `If we keep going at this rate, we won't get it done until after school is out,"' Lee said. "I didn't think that was helping the teachers or the students and neither did Mr. Dansby."

Lee said he expects the contractor to clean four rooms every two weeks, completing the 24 remaining rooms by mid-to-late April.

Teachers and students who use those classrooms said they are pleased to trade musty walls and carpets for fresh paint and clean floor tiles.

"It's much better now," said government teacher Paul Bodine, whose room was one of the two cleaned by district employees. "Before, it had a musty smell. It bothered my allergies. I'm very pleased."

Senior James Godfrey, 18, who has classes in the two newly cleaned classrooms, said the musty smell didn't bother him but that students with allergies were affected.

"You get used to the smell after four years, but the rooms are a whole lot nicer," Godfrey said.

Principal Donna Jefferies said it took some juggling to find space for the displaced classes, but teachers and students are excited that the rooms are being completely revamped. "They're pulling off that plastic stuff that's peeling off the walls, re-sheetrocking, plastering, painting, putting new tile down and new cabinets in. It's going to be nice," she said.

World geography teacher Holly Smith said getting rid of the mold and dust will be worth the inconvenience of moving her class across the hall for a few weeks.

"It's caused health problems for students and myself," Smith said. "All the teachers are anxious to get the work done."

Dansby said some of the mold in the lower part of the school's south wing can be traced back at least 10 or 15 years to flooding caused by a drainage problem that has since been corrected.

But the extent of the problem came to light only after air conditioning systems were shut down during summer construction of the school's new band hall on the north end of the building, he said.

In August or September, Lee said, employees cleaned the carpets in all 26 rooms in that area and cleaned the walls of two classrooms most affected by the old water damage.

Lee said he thought the problem had been resolved until just before Thanksgiving when he was notified that a teacher had complained of respiratatory problems connected to a moldy smell in his classroom.

While inspecting the rooms, Lee said he peeled back the wallpaper and discovered damp, moldy sheetrock. He said he then recommended complete mold remediation of all 26 rooms in the affected area.

At Jefferies' request, employees started cleaning the rooms two at a time to avoid disrupting instruction, Dansby said. Lee later recommended the accelerated cleanup, he said.

Jefferies said the temporary disruption will be worth it.

"The last couple of days we've had to scramble to find more empty classrooms where people are on the their planning period," she said. "But I've been pretty impressed about how the district is responding to this."

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