Emily Peters / The Town Talk
Randy Patterson, district facilities director, looks at a panel covered with mold at North Bayou Rapides Elementary. A new report states the mold is not an imminent threat to people’s health.
Mold is growing in North Bayou Rapides Elementary School, but not at the alarming airborne levels previously thought.
John Lechman, with Altec Environmental Consultants in Shreveport, said, “We did find visible mold and areas that need some cleanup, but we found nothing that was airborne. This is not a terribly contaminated building.”
He suggests the district clear out visible mold and moisture sources.
However, Lechman would not rule out mold as a possible cause of illnesses and respiratory problems reported by school employees.
North Bayou Rapides Principal Julius Patrick was unavailable for comment Tuesday.
The full Altec report will be available today.
The School Board hired Altec to verify a report heard at the June 17 meeting from a private firm hired by board member John Sams.
Sams’ firm, Johnson Danforth consultants from Little Rock, Ark., claimed safety violations and mold in the school create an environment that “could cause bodily injury to staff and students … with potential for severe injuries or even death.”
Firm representatives admitted the report was based solely on observation, and said mold test results would be available within two weeks of the initial report. Repeated phone calls to request the test results have not been returned.
Lechman said while some of the Johnson Danforth findings proved true, the firm jumped to some alarming conclusions based on very general observations.
“I would certainly hesitate to make general statements about that kind of thing without conducting air quality testing and comparing safety standards,” he said.
District officials said the Altec results have not yet been analyzed.
“If there is any contamination that is detrimental to students and employees, we will do whatever it takes to get it ready for the school year,” said Roy Rachal, district risk management and insurance coordinator.
He said there is no reason for serious alarm.
“If there were major health risks involved, (Altec) would have notified us up front because we have people working inside that school now.”
He said if the report reveals a need for more manpower to clean up the area before school starts, maintenance funds could be used to hire an outside firm.
Rachal previously said all schools are not tested for mold because it would be expensive. However, he said any complaints are taken seriously.
Last Easter, dangerous mold was found at Mary Goff Elementary School. Rachal and his crew quarantined the area and cleared the mold within days of the report.
A full report on the Altec findings will be presented at the Aug. 6 board meeting.
Johnson Danforth’s June report also prompted the state Fire Marshal to inspect the school, which had not received its annual fire inspection in more than two years. A Fire Marshal official will return Aug. 8 to check on the violations.
Randy Patterson, district facilities director, said the maintenance teams began addressing the fire code violations Tuesday and would finish next week. Violations included faulty exit doors and missing fire pull stations and safety lights.
“We did a very comprehensive study of the material,” Lechman said.
Altec discovered airborne mold spore counts in the school were comparable to typical outdoor conditions.
Lechman recommended that the district clear out ceiling tiles and other surfaces with visible mold. He also requested that the district eliminate condensation leaks that create moisture where mold can grow.
Lechman said that Altec also checked out claims made by Johnson Danforth about safety standards.
“For instance, they claimed that the school was out of OSHA standards, but we checked and schools do not fall under Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards,” Lechman said.
Lechman added that the Johnson Danforth statements about maintenance were unfounded.
Johnson Danforth’s report stated, “The competency level of individuals performing repairs and upkeep is questionable.”
Lechman said, “There were very inappropriate statements made about the maintenance staff involved. I think the district maintenance has a done sufficient job with the resources they have.”
Kevin Johnson of Johnson Danforth is head of engineering services at Rapides Regional Medical Center, where Sams practices medicine.
Sams said Johnson was at North Bayou Rapides as part of Rapides Regional’s philanthropic work on the school’s new library. After seeing the condition of the school, Sams claims Johnson offered to bring in his firm to conduct the analysis as a personal favor to Sams.
Sams said he has been complaining to the board about the conditions at North Bayou Rapides for two years, and is pleased with the final results of his move to take things into his own hands by hiring Johnson Danforth.
“This has led to the State Fire Marshal going in there twice since then, and the district got Altec, which is a legitimate environmental firm,” he said.
Sams claims that since North Bayou Rapides is a black-identified school, the issue should fall under desegregation mandates that require equitable facilities.
Sams forwarded his complaint to the Justice Department, who asked that the district’s desegregation attorney, Charles Patin, to address the matter.
Patin said there is no mandate to work on North Bayou Rapides, and that a good faith effort to maintain the school’s facilities has been shown this summer with numerous maintenance projects and construction of a new roof.