Jenna Jachles, 6, wears a sign to express her displeasure Thursday with cleanup efforts at Riverside Elementary.
Broward school officials told angry parents Thursday that Riverside Elementary will be safe when school opens Aug. 26, but recent inspection reports say that mold and mildew clean-up work has been sloppy and rushed.
On Wednesday, school district building inspector Maria Luisa Rouco flunked the contractor’s efforts to clean up mold and mildew and fix leaks that caused it. The problem is most severe in the school’s cafeteria and media center, but also exists in some classrooms. She wrote that interior wallboard in the cafeteria had not been removed despite ”apparent mold and mildew stains,” among other problems. Contractor Weiss & Woolrich had placed new insulation in front of the wallboard, but had to remove it earlier in the week. Rouco, known as one of the district’s toughest inspectors, wrote in Wednesday’s report that she “will not sign this project and all the pressure exerted on her will not make her sign unless there is compliance.”
Earlier reports noted problems such as leaky windows in the school’s media center and in some classrooms. The $2.5 million Riverside cleanup started in earnest early this summer. Coral Springs police kept media out of the school on Thursday, while about 30 parents held a hastily scheduled 90-minute meeting with school officials.
Most parents left unhappy. “We want to know if the school will be safe,” said parent Iris Cohen. “They couldn’t give us any answers.” Said parent Christina Matheo: “There are parents who don’t want to send their kids here. I’m fearful they won’t have this all cleaned up.” Those parents and others Thursday complained their children have suffered from headaches and respiratory ailments caused by mold and mildew at the Coral Springs school. Parents at other schools, including Virginia Shuman Young Elementary in Fort Lauderdale, have similar complaints.
Since January, the Broward State Attorney’s Office has been investigating Broward’s mold and mildew cleanup efforts. Dating back to the early 1990s, they have been criticized as being bogged down in red tape. School district spokesman Kirk Englehardt spoke with construction officials Thursday about inspection reports obtained by The Herald. Englehardt said many of the problems cited in Rouco’s inspection reports have been fixed, and added that an industrial hygienist has been hired to make sure the school is safe.
When asked about Rouco’s failing report Wednesday, the schools spokesman said, “This is still a work in progress. The bottom line is that we won’t open a school until it is safe.” Rouco is one of three inspectors who have sued the district, claiming she was punished for reporting safety violations at other schools. Her case is still being litigated.
Riverside is one of five elementary schools built in the late 1980s that were designed by the Fort Lauderdale architectural firm Miller Meier Kenyon Cooper. The other four schools — Country Isles in Weston, Coral Park in Coral Springs, Sandpiper in Sunrise and Silver Ridge in Davie — have reported leaks, and the school district is planning mold removal projects.
Experts say the mold and mildew at Riverside are caused at least partly by a poorly designed internal gutter and leaky cupolas on the roofs. Construction chief Tom Calhoun said crews are only removing walls with visible problems, though ceiling tiles will be removed in all classrooms, to look for signs of trouble.