Construction crews and school officials showed off a newly reopened St. Charles East High School on Thursday, more than a year after the far west suburban high school was closed because of potentially hazardous levels of mold. The $17 million, 10-month job was painstaking work, said David Kedrowski, project manager for the company that oversaw the project. He described how workers removed ceiling panels to scrub down steel beams and used cotton swabs to clean, by hand, the inside of each light switch in the massive–375,000-square-foot–building in an effort to eliminate any trace of mold. “We wanted to make sure we got into every square inch to clean it,” said Kedrowski, whose company was hired by St. Charles School District 303.
“The entire facility was cleaned, basically, inch by inch.” The work went beyond cleaning. Walls were ripped out and replaced, new insulation and ceiling panels were added in many areas, and heating and ventilation systems were replaced. The work was done to eliminate several strains of potentially hazardous mold that was found growing on school walls and ceilings in March 2001.
Experts blamed the mold on leaks that let water seep into the school, which was built in 1977. The discovery of mold forced the move of 2,400 students who attended St.Charles East to St. Charles North High School to finish out the 2000-2001 academic year. Then, last fall, the students were moved to Wredling Middle School, though many classes also were held in mobile classrooms on the school grounds. With the cleanup, the purchase of mobile classrooms to handle the students and other costs involved in transferring students, the district spent about $28 million all together on the mold problems–a lot, but still cheaper than a new building, school officials said.
The repaired and rebuilt St. Charles East got its final occupancy permit this week, and students are scheduled to return for classes next Wednesday. “We’re open for business. Bring on the kids,” St. Charles East Principal Nina Narozny said.
The school had been the target of complaints for more than a decade about poor air quality. The different types of mold found there are thought to bring on allergic reactions, sinus and respiratory problems, and to aggravate breathing problems, particularly asthma. The work should eliminate those concerns, school officials said. And they said they’ve taken steps to ensure that proper and timely maintenance is done to stave off future problems. One key change was replacing some steel-insulated walls with old-fashioned cinder block.
“It’s more water-resistant, it’s less prone to any kind of [mold] growth,” said Kedrowski, an industrial hygienist for Carnow, Conibear and Associates. Some students checking out the building Thursday liked the changes, which included the addition of windows that make the inside of the building brighter. “I think we all like the idea of being back in our school,” said 17-year-old Karen Enockson, an incoming senior.
Written by Dan Rozek, Suntimes