Mold findings force kindergarten class to relocate

Tuesday, April 15, 2008 | 9:11 p.m. CDT; updated 2:41 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — The kindergarten students of room 100 at Benton Elementary School won’t be in their classroom Wednesday. They will be in the school’s art trailer instead.

Room 100 was found to have elevated levels of mold late last week after the school received results of an air quality test issued by the district. Room 100’s teacher, Renee Mottaz, said in a speech to the Columbia School Board Monday night that her students have been suffering from nosebleeds and asthma attacks and that they’ve had trouble breathing because they were inhaling more mold than oxygen.

Students had class elsewhere Monday so the classroom could be cleaned.

Debby Barksdale, Benton’s principal, said she didn’t realize there was mold in room 100 until she received the air quality test results last week.

“We have had a lot of illness school-wide and district-wide,” Barksdale said. “What is attributable to mold, I don’t know.”

The test, which was conducted January 29 by the independent service Environmental Consultants LLC, sampled for a number of things including mold, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. The district received the results on March 7 and they were then reviewed by building services.

“They did find some level of mold in their sample,” said Jack Jensen, Assistant Superintendant of Elementary Education. “They did not find levels to an extent they thought we needed to evacuate. It’s just a case of getting those things done as quickly as possible.”

Barksdale said that the official report showed “elevated levels of one type of mold” and recommended that the room be thoroughly cleaned and that any leaks be plugged or stopped. The report also suggested that the school monitor the space above ceilings and behind walls.

But, Barksdale said, “nowhere in the report did it say it was unsafe for children to be there.”

Barksdale said she’s seen no more sick students coming from room 100 than from any other room, but she did acknowledge that some students might have sensitivities to mold.

“Do we have a preponderance of nosebleeds from there? No,” Barksdale said. “But if mold is an issue for you, you’re going to have some concerns.”

Mold is encouraged by warm and humid conditions and is likely to become a problem where there is water damage, high humidity or dampness, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“There have been roof issues, not just there but all over,” Barksdale said. “This is an old building.”

Thanks to a previous bond issue, Benton was scheduled to get a new roof in August. The date to begin construction has now been moved up to Wednesday afternoon, Barksdale said.

The district also has a plan in place for a new air conditioning and heating system, which Barksdale said is “scheduled to be done in time for us to have summer school.”

Right now, the district is reviewing air quality reports from other schools to make sure nothing was missed, Jensen said.

Normally, the district will monitor a school only when a concern has been raised. Jensen said Environmental Consultants LLC will continue to monitor Benton “to make sure a situation doesn’t arise again.”

“Bottom line is, we make sure that the safety of the kids and the staff is paramount,” Barksdale said. “We’re going to make sure every room in this building is a good place to breathe and learn.”

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