Today is Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Concerned parents meet about school mold

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Kathryn Wall, Henrica Sheffield, Amanda Baer and Kelly Boles encouraged other concerned parents and citizens to sign a petition regarding mold cleanup at Watertown Elementary. SABRINA GARRETT / The Wilson Post

Concerned parents gathered at Round Lick Baptist Church on Wednesday to garner support for their petition to address mold removal at Watertown Elementary School.

Kathryn Wall became the unofficial organizer of the movement, as well as a voice for parents, when she posted photos of apparent mold on Facebook earlier this week.

Wall told The Wilson Post she was dropping off her fourth grader last Thursday when she noticed dehumidifiers and air purifiers in the school office. The following day Wall witnessed ServPro employees in protective suits entering the building to "fog" it.

Wall said the photos showing visible mold posted to Facebook were taken on Monday. "We are just wanting them (the school system) to take care of that building. It is not just a few moms who are upset over this. The whole school is upset over this," she said. "We've heard that the mold was cleaned up from 84 percent to 68 percent (indoor humidity level) - but the Environmental Protection Association website lists a safe percentage at under 60, preferably 30-50... The schools have reported that it is safe and they only moved children as a precaution."

Fourth and fifth grade students are temporarily being taught at Watertown High School.

The issue began over the summer when the air conditioning system broke, creating a moisture problem. A statement issues by Wilson County Schools Director Dr. Donna Wright read that after an initial meeting, ServPro and Johnson Controls were called to discussed the conditions of the bottom floor of the older part of Watertown Elementary.

Wright said ServPro came in and completed the following items the week before school started:

  1. Removed and disposed of all porous contaminated material (including all ceiling tiles in three rooms 101, 103 and 105)

  2. HEPA vacuumed all surface areas.

  3. Wet cleaned visible mold growth off of contents that are deemed salvageable

  4. Cleaned HVAC System, including duct work, in rooms 101, 103 and 105

  5. Treated with EPA registered anti-microbial agent (fogging)

  6. Dehumidified entire wing utilizing LGR dehumidifiers

  7. Utilized Air Filtration Devices equipped with HEPA filters.

In addition to the three classrooms listed, ServPro cleaned another 8 HVAC systems in this area.

Wright said the cleaning crew "wiped down classroom walls, vents, and furniture with bleach/water solution" and "threw away all damaged classroom items and furniture" before the first day of school for students.

The following report is from Johnson Controls, energy management contractor, to Wilson County Schools. The first paragraph was completed before students arrived and the second paragraph was completed the first week of school.

"Immediately upon hearing of the situation at Watertown Elementary prior to school starting, JCI dispatched several of our mechanics to check out the operation of the existing CompuAire units in many of the classrooms at a cost of over $3,000. In addition, we had our technicians override the night setbacks associated with the operation of these units in an effort to get control of the high humidity conditions in many of the classrooms and continue to monitor these rooms.

"After school started, I (Johnson Controls representative) visited the school and met and worked with a couple of Mitch's guys to determine what steps could be done with the operation of the units to get the humidity levels under control. Although we were successful in reducing (from 84% to 68% RH) the humidity in one of the rooms affected by simulating a dehumidification mode, it was determined that the existing units lacked the proper controls and safeties for this type of operation. We then decided that portable dehumidifiers would be a safer option and requested ServPro install 12 of these units in the rooms that had the worse conditions at the time."

Wright said the School Board approved the installation of new HVAC systems at the end of July; it next went to the Wilson County Commission where it was approved on Aug. 24. The new systems are scheduled to be completed by the time students return from fall break.

"Terracon visited the site on Wednesday, Sept. 9 and conducted air quality tests on the areas in question," Wright stated. "Their report stated everything was in acceptable limits except for a bookcase in room 103. It was removed on the night of Thursday, Sept. 10... ServPro fogged this section of the school Friday night, Sept. 11, 2015, as a precautionary measure and were in protected clothing, but were not in hazmat suits as has been reported. Our cleaning crew started wiping own all surfaces on Saturday as they cleaned the building," the statement continued. "Please be assured that we would never do anything to put our students or staff in harm's way in an unsafe environment. We continue monitoring and maintaining the building until the new HVAC system is installed."

Wright reiterated her statements to The Wilson Post through Public Information Officer Amelia Hipps on Wednesday.

"This is a routine maintenance issue all school districts deal with at the beginning of the school year," Hipps said. "People question why we run the air systems during the summer when we could save money by turning them off, and this is why. When we have extraordinary conditions as we did this summer and inadequate air system, you will have compromised conditions. The mold in the affected classrooms was just beginning, and we had people working almost 48 hours straight to get it cleaned up before school started."

Although the new HVAC systems will be installed over fall break - many parents at the petition signing continued to question why there was not more urgency in speeding up the installation process. One parent, who wished to remain anonymous, said her concerns wouldn't stop after clean up. "We need a new school."

Staff Writer Sabrina Garrett may be contacted at

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