An air quality inspector gave Sulphur Springs Middle School the “all clear” as a safe school for students and staff, but work will continue to determine the source of the “moisture issue” and to repair damages resulting from efforts this summer to dry out and eradicate mold from the five affected areas of the building.
“We were given clearance this past Friday,” Sulphur Springs Independent School District Superintendent Michael Lamb said during a press conference Monday afternoon. “Dieter Kaiser with Kaiser Technical tested the air. He waited until the final fan was finished blowing to test. We are clear, all areas were clear. The building is inhabitable. It’s a safe building. The air is cleaner inside than outside the building.”
Lamb said Kaiser will continue to conduct tests at the school every two weeks to monitor air quality and other environmental factors until the cause of moisture in the crawl space under the building is determined and corrected.
“We have a protocol if the numbers change on what to do to fix it immediately,” Lamb said. “You will still see a lot of activity at the building over the next few weeks, a lot of digging and general work to determine the source of the [moisture].”
Currently, ground water is being looked at as a “possible source” for the moisture which pooled under the foundation and caused mold. A natural underground spring is a very distinct possibility, but, officials say, it’s still possible that’s not the source.
“We are looking for the water, focusing on where the source of the water is and what we can do about it,” Lamb said. “The issue is the moisture in the crawl space of middle school.”
Nelson Forensics, a forensics architecture firm, has been brought in to help evaluate the facility and pinpoint the exact source of water. The company is using a process of elimination to reach that conclusion.
“It’s typical to have leaks, some drainage here and there,” Lamb said, noting that while a storm can cause some build up, it’s not believed given the summer conditions and even factoring in some drainage issues, either is the cause of the moisture issues. “We are looking at ground water, a spring is possible, very possible, but it’s also possible it’s not the source.”
The superintendent said that the issue of whether moisture got in while certain corrective floor work was being done during the finishing stages of the construction process last year has been posed. The evaluator will look at all issues before making a ruling. The elimination determination process could take as long as eight to 10 months.
Lamb noted that after cleaning staff found the mold in the building Thursday, June 27, a precursory inspection revealed “a large amount of moisture under the foundation.”
Protocol was followed to have the facility evaluated. A state licensed inspector during a preliminary assessment found “elevated levels of Aspergillus and Penicillium mold,” but not enough to be a concern for any major health problems. Lamb noted reports of mold had been made throughout the school year, but they had been addressed. He said it’s not uncommon for building to have leaks or other small issues, and work has been done to address them.
After the summer problem was noted, the required protocol for removal was followed, Lamb said. Serv-Pro was called in to help address the moisture issue, drying things out and eradicating mold. Kaiser Technical also was called on. Several methods were used to dry things out and remove moisture, including bringing in fans, a decontessant machine and eradication of mold. Holes were bore into floors, including the gym floor, to get the moisture out.
Many items have been removed and cleaned as prescribed for this type of issue and some are being repaired or replaced.
Five areas of SSMS were affected: the gym, band hall, two different closets behind the stage, the cafeteria area in general and a closet in the athletics area. Some repairs to those areas will continue through the year, including some drywall and carpeting, that were damaged and had to be ripped out. Crews are pressing hard to get as much back in correctly as possible, but officials noted there will likely still be some repairs being made during the first of school, which could call for temporary displacement of students in those areas as work progresses.
The gyms are currently ruled to be OK for activities, although Lamb admitted they did sustain some damages.
“It’s not so bad right now. There were some things done to the floor. We do plan to fix them at some time,” Lamb said, noting that the “pad under the floor” in the gym may have to be removed and dried out.
While the work on the small closets shouldn’t be too difficult, students may have to be temporarily displaced from the band hall for a day or so while repairs are being made. Students would likely have to go to the gymnasium for a few days for that.
As for cost of repairs, Lamb said the district is aware they will be extensive, but at this point can’t give a firm estimate. But, the work is necessary so district officials gave the go ahead for work to progress.
Last week, Lamb and District Business Manager Sherry McGraw said that as the district will be closing out the 2012-13 financial year at the end of the month and have to approve a new budget which will begin Sept. 1, costs for repairs will come from the district’s fund balance as the invoices come in.
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