Schools to check portable trailers

Mold discovered recently at Mount Airy Middle

119 classrooms to be examined

Fungi growth didn't pose health risk, inspector says

Carroll County

October 09, 2003|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

A week after emptying four portable classrooms at Mount Airy Middle School for fear that mold might be making teachers and children sick, Carroll County school officials announced yesterday that they will begin inspecting all 119 of the school system's relocateable classrooms for signs of similar water damage.

"Having in hand the knowledge of what's behind those walls and above those ceilings in units of this vintage, we're going to be looking at these classrooms with a critical eye - a more informed eye - based on what we found at Mount Airy," Raymond Prokop, the school system's facilities director, said in an interview yesterday afternoon after a meeting between the school board and county commissioners.

The facilities department also will work to develop an inventory database of the system's portable classrooms to better track maintenance and renovations of the trailerlike units and to prevent problems such as those discovered at Mount Airy Middle from going undetected for so long, Prokop said.

Although crews typically renovate portable classrooms when they are moved from one school to another, the trailer containing four classrooms damaged by water infiltration and fungus growth had been at the school for 23 years.

At a meeting last night, school board members voted in favor of asking the commissioners to transfer $135,000 from the county's school construction fund to repair the damage.

Crews have torn out the classrooms' walls and soon will begin replacing them with moisture-resistant drywall, Prokop said. Repairs also will be made to the unit's windows, gutters, exterior steel siding, electrical system, fire alarms and ventilation system.

A parent first alerted Principal Virginia Savell to a potential problem in the portable classrooms, asking at a back-to-school gathering whether the principal had noticed a funny odor in the trailer. A teacher using one of the portable classrooms soon complained of headaches and parents began calling the school, blaming the portables for their children's colds.

An industrial hygienist who conducts the system's indoor air quality testing inspected the trailer Sept. 30 and recommended that the school immediately stop using it.

The inspector discovered "minor fungi growth in four areas" but concluded that it was "not of sufficient quantity to cause a health risk," according to a report summarizing his findings, which were presented yesterday to the school board and commissioners. He recommended removing and replacing construction materials that had accumulated mold growth.

In other business yesterday, the board:

Delivered to the county commissioners an unprecedented check for $529,338.59 of unspent funds from the operating budget for the fiscal year that ended in July.

In his 18 years working for county government, said the commissioners' chief of staff, Steven D. Powell, the school board has never returned so much money. Last year, the school system returned about $3,000.

"There have been years when it's been spent down to pennies and there's no way that happens on a $100 million budget, so this is remarkable and great," he said. "We'll put it in the bank for next year for the Board of Education."

Reached agreement with county and Mount Airy officials on the last issues holding up a construction permit for Parr's Ridge Elementary. With the necessary legal documents signed yesterday, construction supervisor Al Eilbacher said he expects to receive the permit today and to see construction crews setting up within a month.

The $14.7 million school is expected to open on schedule in August 2005, Eilbacher said.

Approved a high school curriculum that implements a sequence of honors courses and opens the system's highest-level classes to any student interested in taking them. New course offerings include finance, principles of engineering, introduction to engineering design, financial literacy and Advanced Placement classes in studio art, music theory and probability and statistics.

Approved a calendar for the 2004-2005 school year - with classes from Aug. 30, 2004, to June 10, 2005 - that includes four snow days. The calendar also includes for the first time two days when schools will close early systemwide to give teachers nearly three hours to meet together with their supervisors and to meet with educators from other schools in their region of the county.

Asked the superintendent to appoint a committee to study the effectiveness of the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program.

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