Final numbers are not yet in, but Somers Point Superintendent Jeff Miller said the estimated cost for mold remediation at local schools is $1.2 million.
The cost resulting from the mold discovered at three sites just before schools opened in September includes air quality reports, lab testing and a scheduled air-duct cleaning, Miller said. The Jordan, Dawes and New York Avenue schools were all closed for testing.
Estimated costs from Northfield and Pleasantville school districts each averaged about $500,000. The districts have not heard from insurance companies to determine how much of their costs will be covered.
The degree of difference in costs to the schools depends on the extent of the mold in the buildings and the degree or count of mold, the required cleanup at each site and overall project size, said Suzanne Keller, Somers Point Board of Education secretary and business administrator.
All three school districts discovered mold in small quantities in various buildings a week before school opened. Pleasantville opened on time, but Northfield and Somers Point delayed opening for more than a week as remediation work was done.
The bill in Somers Point is being reviewed and finalized as the district waits to hear from its insurance company, Miller said.
Pleasantville Superintendent Garnell Bailey said that once that district’s final bill is received, officials will seek assistance from the state. She added that while the district didn’t experience a “disaster” as a result of the mold, “it was a state of emergency as it relates to the children.”
At recent school board meetings in the three districts, parents asked why the schools don’t run the air conditioning all summer to avoid the possibility of mold build-up.
“We do,” said Northfield Superintendent Janice Fipp. “When I read that (in newspapers), I thought, ‘Well that’s interesting, because we do.’”
Most of the schools in Northfield and Somers Point have HVAC systems that are set to run less frequently when the buildings are unoccupied in the summer.
Because of this setting, during the humid days before school opening, mold was able to build up in a few areas of the buildings, Marylee Morinelli, with Coastal Environmental Compliance, said when she attended school board meetings in both Northfield and Somers Point that discussed the mold problems.
“The difference this past summer was that while the humidity was very high, the temperatures were not extremely high, so the air did not cycle on long enough,” Linda Albright, Northfield board secretary, said.
Fipp said the schools in her district have the systems set to reduce only 2 degrees below the temperatures during the regular school year.
“It’s like she (Morinelli) said, because of the humidity and the unoccupied school buildings, it can happen,” Fipp said.
Mold can form and build up in as little as 72 hours if the conditions are right, Morinelli said.
“We do run the A/C all summer long,” Miller said. “But we may having to look at running it all night long, as well.”
Miller said the engineers are looking at the cost of doing so, as well as other options for the system.
“We will, however, monitor the temperatures vs. humidity and take appropriate action and make appropriate adjustments based on that information if needed,” Albright said.
“It was unexpected across the board,” Bailey said. “We’re all in the same boat. It has taken a big chunk out of our General Fund.”
Bailey suggested the schools talk about applying for state aid as a county.
Albright said Northfield would be unable to apply for state aid, but the district hopes its insurance will cover most of its mold costs.
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