by Bill Hirschman – Education Writer, Sun-Sentinel
Bending to parental pressure, Broward County school officials tested the air quality Monday at two elementary schools where mold and mildew problems continue to cause doubts that children will be allowed inside on the first day of school next week. The results are not expected until at least Wednesday, and decisions will not be made until Thursday about whether to open Riverside Elementary in Coral Springs and Country Isles Elementary in Davie.
Moisture Causes Mold In New Schools
The fate of two new schools in which summer rains have delayed construction also must be decided. The decisions on Riverside and Country Isles elementary schools will be announced Thursday night at public meetings where alternatives will be outlined if the schools can’t open, said district spokesman Kirk Englehardt. Work has been under way at both schools for months to install a new roof, patch holes in the old roof, rip out infected drywall and clean out accumulations of mold. School Board member Stephanie Kraft, whose daughter once attended Riverside, said Superintendent Frank Till told her “they got most of the classrooms cleaned up.” The two schools are among five plagued with mold since the late 1980s because all were designed with cupolas on the roof that allow water to leak through the joints.
Mold Makes Students Sick
\In the past few years, students and staffers at Riverside have complained that the condition caused headaches, runny noses, stomach aches and watery eyes and that it aggravated respiratory ailments. Thursday, Rene Salazar, an industrial hygienist hired by the district, visually inspected the buildings he had monitored for the past year. Many contaminated spots had been cleaned, but other locations continued to show mold and mildew, Salazar said.
Some parents at Riverside told him that workers had simply covered up mold with insulation. The media center, cafeteria and administration office still needed cleaning, he said. But the expert balked at doing anything but a careful eyeball examination of the premises on Thursday. He stressed that testing the air in rooms wastes time and money because the results can be contradictory and are no more reliable than visual inspections. That answer sparked outrage among parents, who called for the air in every room to be tested. As a result, district officials agreed Monday to do some air-quality testing, Englehardt said. “We listened to the community, and we know that they would feel much better if we had tests proving that the school was safe,” he said.
The results and contingency plans if the schools are deemed unsafe should be available when Riverside parents meet from 5 to 6 p.m. at J.P. Taravella High, 10600 Riverside Drive, and Country Isles parents meet from 7 to 8 p.m. at Western High, 1200 SW 136th St. Officials spent Monday making plans ranging from opening all but the cafeteria and media center at Riverside to busing students to other campuses. Riverside plans to move its central office to one of the school’s modular classrooms.
Inspectors ‘Failing’ Mold Covered Drywall
Administrators also are coming down to the wire in deciding whether to open two new schools where contractors are racing to finish their work. Although officials remain “cautiously optimistic,” Till will inspect Park Lakes Elementary in Lauderdale Lakes on Wednesday and Manatee Bay Elementary in Weston on Thursday to determine whether the schools are safe enough to open. Work on Park Lakes, known as Elementary X since it was first promised in 1989, slowed during the summer when the contractor failed to pay workers on time. At the same time, inspectors were failing the quality of the work and mold covered drywall that was installed before the building was sealed. Fire inspectors also called into question some of the safety provisions. If it isn’t finished, Park Lakes students who were zoned for Larkdale Elementary last school year will likely stay at Larkdale until Park Lakes is complete. Other Park Lakes students will likely go to Lauderhill Paul Turner Elementary or the Castle Hill Annex.
Manatee Bay Elementary in Weston also faces a late opening, reportedly because of delays caused by the steady rainstorms last month. Its students will spend the first school weeks in portables at Gator Run, Everglades and Eagle Point elementaries until mid-September, according to contingency plans.