by Joel Davis, The Daily Times Staff
Blount County Schools authorities would rather be safe than sorry when it comes to potential mold problems in the system.
Environmental company Helton and Associates has been hired to test Heritage High School and Friendsville and Montvale elementary schools for the presence of hazardous molds.
“That’s where we’ve had some complaints,” Facilities Manager Ben Dalton said. “We’re going to end up looking at every school and developing a system-wide plan to make sure we don’t have any problems as far as air quality or in any direction.
“We want to do anything we can to ensure the air quality is good for our kids.”
This comes after personnel took steps to alleviate reported mold problems at the high school, Director of Schools Alvin Hord said.
“The situation visibly seems to be under control,” he said. “What he is going to do is a walk-through to see what he can visually inspect. He’s also going to do some air quality tests.”
The testing, which began late Tuesday, will determine whether any molds present are harmful.
“It’s a complicated problem,” Hord said. “There is not a test for 20,000 different species of mold. They test for the nine or 10 they have identified that can be dangerous.”
The cost for the mold cleanup has not been determined.
“The costs are unknown at this point,” he said. “It depends on what we have to get into. If we have to replace the units … that would be a costly thing.”
When the tests are complete, Helton and Associates will make recommendations to the school system about how to resolve the situation.
“We’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it,” Hord said.
The moisture problem at Heritage High School may have its roots in the system’s energy management practices.
The air conditioning units were programmed to be cut off at night and to turn back on before the students arrived in the morning.
“The biggest problem we’ve had is dealing with this hot, humid weather and continuing the energy-saving program we’ve been on,” Dalton said.
To control the problem at the school, school officials have started running the air conditioners at the site 24 hours a day.
The investigation comes at the request of the parent of a high school student, who alerted school personnel about the presence of mold.
“We felt like we need to investigate the concern,” Principal Vandy Kemp said.
There have been no reports of an outbreak of symptoms related to mold exposure at the school.
Dehumidifiers have also been brought in to dry out the affected areas.
Hord said he wants to take an in-depth look at the causes of mold in the schools.
"We are going to evaluate the heating and air conditioning units that are at Montvale and Heritage,” he said. “Mold is caused by a moisture problem. We are going to evaluate those to see if they are performing properly.”
Identifying the source
It pays to be thorough, he said.
“We’re trying to look at all of those things in conjunction with each other,” Hord said. “If you get rid of it and (that does not) cure the source where it originates, then it’s right back.”
In addition, school personnel have been instructed to keep classroom doors shut and are making an intensive effort to clean up mold that has been found.
“What I want to do is have an ongoing program that deals with the causes of the mold and the symptoms and not just do it at a certain time in the year,” Hord said. “We’re going to try to have something ongoing rather than dealing with things as they flare up.”