Coatesville, PA – Reports of mold in the Coatesville Area Ninth and Tenth Grade Center have prompted the administration to hire an engineering firm to inspect the building, said Superintendent James T. Scarnati.
A full report of findings along with short-term and long-term solutions is to be presented in time for the December board meeting.
In the meantime, said Scarnati, extra cleaning of the school, including the air ducts and ventilation system, has been ordered and alternative education opportunities have been offered to the handful of students complaining of severe health problems.
But, Scarnati and district solicitor James Ellison assured, no health risks exist.
“The building is safe, it is healthy,” Ellison said.
“If there was danger to the children I would pull that plug,” added Scarnati.
At least one parent, however, disputes that assessment, saying they had held their children out of attending classes at the building because of health concerns.
The Ninth and Tenth Grade Center, constructed in 1992, has had its fair share of problems over the years, including repairs that had to be made in the summer of 2001 to solve the ebb and flow of material below a portion of the building, which caused cracks to the walls and floors.
Scarnati said it appears the location chosen for the building may be causing the mold. “It sits on a wet site,” he said, noting that was a problem that needs to be addressed long-term.
But the mold isn’t something new. “It’s probably been a problem for at least eight years,” he said. All preliminary reports, he said, show no health risks. But Scarnati did acknowledge that its existence may cause problems for those students with severe allergies.
For those students, he said, tutoring in the senior high or a transfer to the alternative education program is available. But, he cautioned, those options won’t simply be handed out. “This is only on a doctor’s written recommendation,” he said.
But one parent said so far he isn’t satisfied with the response.
Michael Brinton said he has had to pull his 14-year-old daughter out of the ninth grade due to the mold. The combination of asthma and allergies has left her unable to attend her classes in any of the three stories of the building.
After two consecutive weeks of health issues, Brinton said his daughter was moved over to the neighboring senior high building. There, he said, she was placed in a room alone and work was shuttled back and forth to her.
“To me this is unacceptable,” said Brinton. “She needs the interaction with the teachers. She needs the interaction with the rest of the children. They have a problem and they need to fix it.”
Brinton said he won’t send his daughter back to school until he’s seen a report of the type of mold found. “It may not be a deadly sort of mold,” he said. “It might be something where the doctor can alter my daughter’s medication to help her. But I need that information first.”
The Chester County Health Department, said Dave Jackson, director of the environmental division, is also looking for a copy of the report once it is out.
Jackson said he was first notified of the mold complaints about two weeks ago when he met with a group of teachers to discuss concerns about Gordon Middle School, where classes were canceled and children were sent home because they became sick over a noxious odor related to ongoing construction there.
While the Health Department does have the option of stepping into the situation, Jackson said he is looking to assist the district in getting the problem corrected. But first they need the report.
While he explained he was no mold expert, Jackson pointed out there are all different kinds of mold.
“You kind of have to know what you’re working with,” he said.