School Mold Update

Custodian Clarence Ellis, of Atlantic City, empties the water from one of several dehumidifiers located in the hallways of the school to prevent mold at Northfield Community School, in Northfield.

Staff cleaning Hamilton Township’s Hess Educational Complex noticed carpet stains that looked suspiciously like mold as they prepared for the start of the new school year.

The district’s new superintendent, Frank Vogel, came from the Somers Point school district, which had a $1 million mold problem in 2012 that left a lasting impression. He knew quick action was crucial.

The district used Coastal Environmental Compliance in Hammonton to evaluate and hired ServPro to remediate about a dozen classrooms for about $67,000 according to the August school board agenda.

Extremely hot and humid weather combined with schools that are closed and not being used in summer create the ideal environment for mold that can develop and spread quickly, said Marylee Morinelli, an owner of Coastal.

Since 2012, when a number of local schools developed mold during the hot, humid summer, her firm has been contracted by some districts to do annual evaluations, she said.

“Schools really do struggle with this in the summer,” she said. “The HVAC systems suck in humid air, but then the occupant load is too low to trigger the air conditioning to stay on. The humid air just gets stuck. Some schools need to look at adding extra dehumidification.”

The problem of mold is not new but has become increasingly serious as more students suffer from asthma and allergies.

In 2000 at a healthy schools seminar during the NJ Parent Teacher Association Convention in Atlantic City, Maryann Chimenti-Kolbeck, a former NJPTA president and Region II director for the National PTA, cited carpeting as a primary cause of indoor air pollution in schools due to the chemicals used to clean it. Mold also can be caused by spills or leaks that don’t dry properly.

Vogel said carpeting was being replaced with tile at the Hess Complex.

“We are taking every precaution,” he said.

Remediation can be expensive and can even close schools.

In 2011, Barnegat Township closed the Cecil Collins school for five months to handle a cleanup that cost at least $300,000, according to Press reports at the time.

In 2012, Pleasantville, Weymouth Township and Northfield all delayed opening school a few days for mold cleanup.

Ocean City High School closed several classrooms and the auditorium until remediation was complete. Middle and Upper townships had mold problems but were able to fix them so school could open on schedule.

Weymouth residents later approved a $1 million bond referendum to upgrade the school’s HVAC system. Superintendent Brian London said the school currently has no mold problems. The new system included better dehumidification.

Pete Bretones, the new superintendent in Northfield, said the district now takes proactive steps to monitor the HVAC system to better control the temperature and humidity year-round.

“I am happy to report that we learned from that experience and have not had any further issues since.” Bretones wrote in an email.

Pleasantville and Somers Point now contract with a company to do periodic testing school officials said.

Somers Point interim superintendent Thomas Baruffi said there are dehumidifiers in every classroom, and room temperatures and humidity levels are monitored daily so control settings can be adjusted as needed.

Somers Point will also go to the voters with a bond referendum in September that includes upgrades to the HVAC system. Baruffi said the units at Jordan Road School are now 50 years old.

"We believe it's imperative that they are replaced in order to keep the environment properly regulated and to prevent mold growth in the future without taking a Band-Aid approach," Baruffi said in an email.

Vogel said his time in Somers Point made him aware of how quickly mold can become a huge, expensive problem.

“It was something everyone was always very concerned about there,” he said. “But it had not been a problem in Hamilton. We are now monitoring the air conditioning and adjusting the temperatures to eliminate the environment for mold to grow.”

Contact: 609-272-7241

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