By Eloise Aguiar – Writer, Advertiser Windward O’ahu
Posted on: Thursday, August 8, 2002
HAU’ULA – Half of the shelves in the Hau’ula Elementary School library sit empty after mold destroyed about $60,000 worth of books and forced the closure of the facility all of last school year because of potential health risks.
But finally the mold is gone and the library is open again after a labor-intensive eradication effort that lasted a year and required hundreds of hours of work by volunteers. The situation highlighted what has now been acknowledged as a problem in at least 12 more schools and led to changes at this tiny Windward school to protect the rest of its collection.
The reopening coincided with the start of school July 31, and though Hau’ula’s 320 students are happy to have their library back, it’s a facility with a reduced collection that could interfere with research projects and limits the selection of books a child can borrow.
Of the 12,000 books the school once had, about 4,000 were discarded.
"The fairy tale and science collection was hit hardest because of their location in the library," said school librarian Natalie Zane.
The two collections, along with the Hawaiiana section, which also sustained great loss, are next to an exit door that Zane believes was a main contributor to the mold problem.
The door, on the ocean side of the building, let in moisture every time it was opened, she said, adding that the mold near the door was greater than in any other part of the room.
The school is looking at ways to secure the door, which must remain unlocked because it is an emergency exit, Zane said.
In the meantime, the school is scrambling to replace its lost inventory, applying for a grant for reference books and seeking donations. About 1,000 used and new books have been given to the school, said principal Bradley Odagiri.
"We appreciate any support we can get," Odagiri said, adding that money might be better because that would allow the librarian to select books that meet the school’s curriculum needs. At $15 per library book, the school would need $60,000 to replace its losses.
About 50 boxes filled with donated books are stacked against the library wall waiting to be reviewed and sorted. Not all are library material, some because they lack a sturdy binding, and others because they are not considered appropriate reading for elementary school children.
With no clear guidelines about how to deal with the mold, the school had to work on its own to figure out how to handle the problem. The Windward District Office did eventually provide some financing and the Department of Education provided manpower to help move the books.
Zane and a small group of volunteers cleaned the library, and Brigham Young University-Hawai’i froze the salvageable books, killing the mold growing in them.
With the cleaning and freezing ordeal behind them, Odagiri said steps have been taken to protect the remaining collection, including adding three dehumidifiers and readjusting the air conditioner. The library also will get a new air conditioner.
"We don’t want to go through that again," he said.
Zane said she thinks the problem worsened when schools were asked to cut their budgets and the recommendation was made to save on energy costs by shutting off the air conditioner at night, on weekends and holidays.
Air conditioning helps keep the collection dry, she said. When the air conditioner is off, moisture accumulates and mold grows. No one seemed to consider the long-term effects this short-term solution would have on the books, she said.
Since Hau’ula’s mold problem came to light, more than 12 other libraries have complained about similar conditions, Zane said.
"So the question becomes, ‘How much money did they really save by turning off the electricity?’ " she said