BUSHKILL, PA — There’s moisture in the air at Middle Smithfield Elementary School — and maybe mold too. The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry has ordered the East Stroudsburg Area School District to take corrective action after a Jan. 23 inspection identified mold and nearly a dozen leaks in the school’s ceilings.
“Trust me, I’m not happy about these leaks right now, but I am happy we received a letter and that they’re forcing us to resolve the issue,” said Wayne Rohner, a school board member and chairman of the property and facilities committee. “Hell, I’ve been trying to do that since 2009, unsuccessfully. During the construction, we knew about it – everybody knew about it. Anyone who says this is a surprise is systematically lying to you. It’s documented.”
Indoor air quality tests were performed at the school on Tuesday, but administrators won’t receive the results of those tests until next week at the earliest, district Facilities Director Scott Ihle said on Friday. Garland Roofing began initial repairs in mid-February and continues to address leaks as the weather allows. As of Friday, the school building remained open for its regularly scheduled classes.
“There is nothing to indicate to my department or the district that there is an unsafe environment at this time,” Ihle said. “We are confident to say that — as far as we are aware of — we do not have a mold problem in that school. I was with the Labor and Industry inspector while he went through the building before the report was submitted, and not once did he mention mold. It was not until we received the written report from Labor and Industry that mold was mentioned.”
The Department of Labor and Industry found the district in violation of at least four state laws regarding workplace safety following that inspection. Roof leaks and resulting water damage were observed in at least 11 locations throughout both floors of the building, and inspectors identified mold in several of those areas.
“We have been aware of some leaks,” Ihle said. “Some are new, some are older. We have made repairs on Middle Smithfield’s roof throughout the last several years. Some leaks have been rectified, some have returned to us even after work was performed. With roof leaks, it’s sometimes difficult to determine the actual point of entry; however, we have had contractors up there in the last four years addressing those issues.
An order dated Feb. 11 from the Department of Labor and Industry mandates that the district bring the facility into compliance no later than May 14 or face potential legal action. One of those repercussions could include a revocation of the building’s certificate of occupancy. Rohner has a particular link to that document: in 2013, as Middle Smithfield Township zoning officer, he denied the building its certificate of occupancy. The township fired Rohner soon thereafter, and his decision was later overturned. What was Rohner’s reason for the denying the certificate? Among other things, roof leaks. “It all goes back to elected officials circumventing the law at the expense of all our taxpayers,” Rohner said. “When we take an oath of office, we’re taking an oath to protect the constitution, the laws of Pennsylvania and our taxpayers. We have completely failed to do that. Adain, I’m alleging collusion and corruption. Obviously, some of these decisions take place behind closed doors, and we don’t know what is really going on. We don’t know. We’d like to find out, and that’s why we hired Lyman and Ash.”
The school board voted in September 2018 to hire Philadelphia law firm Lyman and Ash as special solicitor for construction-related litigation. Those attorneys were tasked with investigating faulty construction work in district schools, an investigation that is ongoing. In January 2019, the school board voted to begin performing biannual indoor air quality tests for all district buildings; however, those tests are still being scheduled, Ihle said, and will likely begin next month.
This isn’t the first time mold was found in Middle Smithfield Elementary, nor is it a new phenomenon for the district’s other schools. The district spent more than $222,000 in December 2015 to perform emergency repairs and mold remediation in the ceiling above two Middle Smithfield classrooms. Mold found behind plastic lockers delayed the start of the 2017-18 school year for East Stroudsburg High School North and Lehman Intermediate School. Resica Elementary also closed briefly in August 2018 after workers discovered mold on several classroom surfaces.
Ihle said the district intends to do everything within its control to bring Middle Smithfield Elementary into compliance by the state’s May 14 deadline. Rohner was less optimistic. “I don’t think we’re going to be able to repair it,” Rohner said. “If we haven’t done it in six years, how can we do it now? If we can, I’m going to be extremely angry with why we didn’t do this back then. It took a letter from Labor and Industry for us to pull our heads out of the sand. Do you know what our response has been so far? ‘We’ll just keep buying ceiling tiles.'”
Middle Smithfield Elementary’s woes are certain to be a topic during Monday night’s school board meeting, Rohner said also. He plans to address those issues in his property and facilities report early that evening. That same night, board members will vote whether to approve spending $7.2 million to $7.7 million replacing the roofs at East Stroudsburg High School North, Lehman Intermediate School and Resica Elementary School. A motion for the payment of bills will also include invoices totaling an additional $45,924 for work already performed on those projects.