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Stafford removing elementary school’s mold

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While most Stafford County schools will be inactive during spring break, Anne E. Moncure Elementary School will be a beehive of activity as crews deal with recently discovered mold, mildew and asbestos issues.

Three of the Garrisonville school’s classrooms will have the flooring removed, undergo antimicrobial fogging and have the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems cleaned to remove hazardous materials.

“It’s not a health issue and not a health risk,” said Scott Horan, Stafford County’s assistant superintendent for facilities. “There were just indications that we want to clean this up.”

However, Ashley Garland, who has two sons who attend the school, is still worried after receiving a letter Wednesday from the school because her sons are in nearby classrooms.

“My son has had a snotty nose for pretty much a couple of months,” Garland said. “We are making doctor’s appointments to make sure he doesn’t have mold in his system.”

A few months ago, people started complaining of stuffy noses and other allergic reactions after spending time in two unoccupied classrooms.

“We didn’t know if it was just because the person was hyper-allergenic or not, and then we started getting a few more indications from others that they were allergic to something,” Horan said.

After doing a visual inspection, changing the HVAC filters and cleaning the carpets, there were no noticeable findings. However, the issues persisted, so the school division brought in an independent consultant who found very low levels of aspergillus and penicillium mold.

“That type of mold has a tendency to make people react with asthmatic-type conditions,” Horan said.

The third classroom previously had students in it, but they have since been moved to the school’s technology lab. That room did not have any air-quality issues, but it is separated by a partition wall from one of the other classrooms that did.

“We elected to include Room 3 in the project because it is adjacent and because of the type of wall,” Horan said. “There was no indication that we had to do that, we just thought it was prudent.”

While looking for the mold, workers removed the carpets and found tile underneath that was of the age and size for containing asbestos. Upon closer inspection, the tile and mastic were found to have asbestos.

The asbestos had not been disturbed and did not get into the air in the rooms.

So the school division has to do more extensive work than originally planned because of the presence of asbestos, Horan noted.

As soon as the kids are dismissed for spring break on April 18, the work will start.

But that is not soon enough for Garland.

“I’m aggravated. Why don’t they do something to not risk exposing the children to mold and asbestos?” Garland said.

The asbestos material and the mold will be gone and replaced with new tiles and a cleaned HVAC system, according to the letter sent to parents from Moncure’s Principal Gregory Machi. The rooms should be ready for the students’ return on April 28.

Garland worries that this cleanup will not have been enough.

“Are there other rooms containing this that they haven’t tested?” Garland asked.

This isn’t the first time mold has been discovered at a Stafford County school.

In 2003, the mix of humid weather and rain over the summer created the ideal environment for mold growth in Grafton Village Elementary School.

That school has a similar design to Moncure, which was opened in 1966.

In several of the classrooms at Grafton Village, returning teachers had discovered mold.

That year, a professional cleaning company was hired to get rid of the mold before school started again, and air tests were performed to ensure there were no longer elevated levels of mold.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, mold can be found virtually anywhere and is impossible to eliminate in an indoor environment.

The EPA recommends controlling indoor mold growth by regulating moisture levels.

The mold issue will come to a complete end in the future. The Moncure school on busy Garrisonville Road is slated in the future to be replaced by a new school on a nearly 24-acre site about a mile north on Juggins Road.

Jessica Koers: 540/374-5444


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