Star Tribune – Mold problems, the bane of school air quality in the Twin Cities over the past decade, is forcing a Twin Cities elementary school to close this fall.
Because of mold that has been nurtured by heavy summer rains, the Robbinsdale School District has decided to shut down Forest Elementary in Crystal.
Staffers and students will move to Golden Valley’s Olson Elementary School for at least the 2002-03 school year. Olson, which is currently empty, has been used in the past to house students displaced by construction projects.
District officials say Forest Elementary is currently safe. Summer school was held at the site — the last day being Thursday — and the school houses a day-care program called Adventure Club.
Superintendent Stan Mack said parents would be offered day care at a different site if they’re concerned. He said air quality at the school is being monitored monthly.
Mack said the mold problems were discovered as part of the district’s normal monitoring procedures. More intensive monitoring was begun in spring 2001 once the mold was discovered. The district also attempted stopgap measures to stop the mold’s growth. The source of the problem, Mack said, is a tunnel system under the school’s floors. The tunnels house heating pipes and rest on earth, which is where the moisture that breeds the mold forms.
Reports from Tamarack Environmental Inc., the district’s air-quality consulting firm, indicated that because of the air-quality concerns, the school’s students and staff shouldn’t occupy it during the coming school year unless measures are taken to fix the problems, which could cause or worsen such respiratory ailments as asthma and allergies. But even temporary measures to clean up the 50-year-old school’s mold would cost $500,000 to $1.5 million.
Such costly and temporary remedies, Mack said, “would be throwing good money after bad, and not a wise investment when we couldn’t guarantee over a long period of time that they would permanently solve the problem.”
Remodeling the school as a long-term solution would cost more than $9 million, according to district estimates. That’s even more than it would cost to build a new school. Indeed, Mack said he wants to hold an election, possibly as early as December, to try to get voter approval to build a new school on the Forest Elementary site.
Olson Elementary is 4 miles from Forest. In moving, “The only issue of inconvenience is a little longer bus ride,” Mack said. Forest had 452 students last year.
Mack said the planned closing marks the first time that the district has had to shut down a school because of poor air quality. But other elementary schools have mold problems too, though less severe. That’s a factor in the district’s remodeling of all 12 of its elementary schools, five of which already have been remodeled.
Mack said the first schools renovated were those with the worst air-quality problems. And Sandburg Middle School, in Golden Valley, was renovated in 2000 to eliminate a worsening mold problem.
Other Twin Cities districts — Anoka-Hennepin and Mounds View among them — have had to close schools with severe mold-related air-quality problems. In the Anoka-Hennepin district, Andover’s Crooked Lake Elementary School was shut down for several months in 1997 and 1998 to get rid of mold at a cost of more than $2 million. In New Brighton, the Mounds View district’s Pike Lake Elementary School was closed for about a month in 1996, then again for much of the 2000-01 school year to combat mold problems.
Dozens of Minnesota schools each year work to solve air-quality problems. Nationwide statistics from the U.S. Government Accounting Office showed that, in 1995, more than half of the nation’s schools had air-quality problems, and that mold was the main culprit.
Mack noted that the district administration building is also experiencing some air-quality problems.