Parents in Westport, CT, "the Beverly Hills of the East", a highly desirable place to live in CT, have learned that school mold has been discovered in several of the rooms on an older school campus, King's Highway Elementary School, where health problems have been reported for staff and children. These articles from Westport newspapers outline the parents' reaction and the town's approach to solving this problem.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Heated Meeting on King’s Highway Mold at Town Hall
By Linda Alvkall
It was a heated meeting Wednesday night at Westport Town Hall as many parents expressed anger and concern about the air quality at King’s Highway Elementary School.
State health experts addressed mold issues at Wednesday night’s Town Hall meeting on air quality at King’s Highway Elementary School. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) WestportNow.com photo
So many Westporters showed up that the meeting first scheduled for room 309 had to be moved to the Town Hall auditorium.
Brendan Reilly, a concerned parent who has two children at the school, was upset that his son’s asthma has worsened due to what he said was mold in his classroom.
“Fourteen out of 19 children in one classroom have symptoms,” Reilly said. “The sickness of these children is the most important thing.”
He added there is testing that indicated a mold problem that goes back at least to 1997 and a history of teachers complaining.
Another parent, Bill Pecorellio, said he wants additional testing of the entire school.
“We want our own independent expert, and regain our trust,” he said.
Pecorellio said his number one priority is the kids, that he wants to know the history of this problem, and that parents will pay for more testing if necessary.
“Money is not the issue,” Pecorellio said.
Marian Heyman, an industrial hygienist at the Connecticut Department of Public Health who walked through the school earlier in the day, said every carpet has mold.
“If you gotta smell it, find the source and get rid of it,” Heyman said.
According to Heyman, the recommended ventilation guideline is 800 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide. A report from May 2007 indicates carbon dioxide levels higher than 1,000 ppm in 17 of 24 classrooms total at the school.
Reilly asked Heyman why no more testing is being done, and she replied that improved communication is needed among parents, the Board of Education, and Sue Jacozzi, director of Weston Westport Health District.
Reilly said that the existence of Stachybotrys, Aspergillus/Pennicillium molds has been documented by independent testing companies in multiple areas of King’s Highway since October 2001.
Heyman said, “Follow up on ventilation issues, follow up on carbon monoxide results from May 2007, avoid unnecessary testing, continue with carpet removal, and improve communication..
“The carpets have been removed from the classrooms, so no more concerns about that,” Heyman said.
Kenneth Foscue, another specialist with the state Department of Public Health, said the health of the children was the most important thing.
“The nosebleeds could be related to a number of sources,” Foscue said.
Ann Dinshaw, a parent, said her children have spent years at the school without knowing that there was mold in the classrooms.
“It’s been years of not being told what to look for,” Dinshaw said.
Foscue said Schools Superintendent Elliott Landon had committed to implementing the “Tools for Schools” air quality program that has been successful in reducing similar problems at many schools in the state and across the country.
According to Foscue, for example in Chester, yearly asthma-related office visits decreased from 463 before the program to 82 after its implementation over a four-year period.
First Selectman Gordon Joseloff said, “We will do what we have to do to make the school safe.”
He said this was a commitment and he will work collaboratively with the parents and superintendent to get the job done.
Joseloff pledged to include an air quality expert endorsed by the parents in a committee of citizens, and town and school officials to tackle the air quality issues.
Landon said, “We are the only school district in the state which voluntarily tests the whole school. We will work closely and do our best to make sure the kids are safe.”
A demolition of a “pod,” a temporary structure at the school where mold has been found, is planned, and Landon said he is prepared to have it removed.
(For more information on the issue visit www.KHScleanair.org)
Posted 07/26 at 02:46 AM
The Center for School Mold Help, an educational nonprofit, applauds the First Selectman’s stance, and offers our resources at http://www.schoolmoldhelp.org.
A history of having a documented mold problem that the parents were not warned about, with teachers complaining, many sick children ... this is reprehensible. The superintendent should have alerted the parents as a whole.
If they are removing the rugs without special mold remediation procedures, they are spreading it into the HVAC system and entire school. That would be typical of many school districts.
Posted by Susan Brinchman on July 27, 2007 at 10:45 AM | #
Doubts Mark Mold Meeting in Westport
By Frank Luongo
Article Launched:07/27/2007 09:19:20 AM EDT
The passion of Westport parents, who at this time do not trust the central
school administration to guard the health of their children against
environmental contamination, dominated a meeting Wednesday in the Town
Hall auditorium. The meeting had been called, as the new school year
approaches, to assuage parental fears about mold and carbon pollution at
the King's Highway Elementary School (KHS).
In response, Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff said that his
administration would address KHS as a town-owned property and would ask
the town's Maintenance Study Committee, in concert with parent
representatives, the school system's Health and Wellness Committee and the
Westport Weston Health District, to take the lead in developing a plan and
a process for assuring that the school is safe for its scheduled opening
in late August.
Two of Westport's state legislators, state Sen. Judith Freedman and State
Rep. Joseph Mioli, attended the meeting and both appeared moved by the
response of more than 50 parents at the meeting and a presentation by
leaders of the KHS Clean Air Committee.
"I can't blame them," Freedman said about the arguments made by the
parents and their many expressions of doubt and frustration. "There was a
lot of skepticism. They know their kids and the school should listen to
them," she said.
Freedman said that she hoped everyone would work together to make sure
that parents are assured of a safe school, and she appeared assured
herself that this would take place.
"It was an eye-opener for me. It scared the heck out of me," Mioli said
about information presented at the meeting. He was surprised at the depth
of problem and said he had only recently heard about the issue. "I wish
somebody had given me a heads-up."
Two representatives from the Connecticut Department of Health, who had
done a walk-through at KHS, started the meeting with a slide presentation
about mold and other contaminants and reported that they had not found
visible evidence of a serious mold problem at the school, but expressed
concern about high levels of carbon dioxide and unexpected carbon monoxide
in some parts of the building, as noted in an air-quality assessment of
the building last spring.
Kenny Foscue, a state epidemiologist and health educator, and Miriam
Heyman, a state industrial hygienist who is active in environmental
assessments, hit a sensitive nerve with the parents when they appeared to
downplay the value of environmental testing at the school.
"Testing would find mold," Heyman said, but she made available a health
department fact sheet, which claims that there are no appropriate
standards for indoor air quality in such environments as schools and
"The important thing is to find the source of the mold, correct it and
remove all materials that have it," Heyman said, advocating a
comprehensive plan of attack on the problem, but not starting with
testing, which she warned is very expensive and frequently the work of
Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon said at the meeting that, at
Heyman's urging, he was ready to commit the school system to the state's
Tools for Schools program of indoor air-quality maintenance and assessment
Westport has been among the few school districts in the state not
participating in the program. Parent committee members at the meeting
strongly agreed with the move.
Parents were soon peppering the state health officials with challenges,
establishing the fact that the officials had not had a chance to check
behind walls for mold, explore water pipes in the ceiling, check out
flooring under carpeting and, above all, assess the impact on the school
proper of the mold-contaminated permanent portable, or pod, which is now
Foscue and Heyman appeared taken aback by the intensity of the parents'
response, especially their recitation of health complaints that parents
said went back to 1997.
Saying this was all news to them, Foscue and Heyman urged an improvement
in communications with parents and the wider community on the part of
They also acknowledged, as pointed out by a parent, that their own handout
said that testing "may be used to confirm or refute a highly suspected
That prompted Brendan Reilly and Bill Pecoriello, two of the more
out-front members of the parent committee, to say that the pod was just
that kind of source.
They pointed out that the pod was closed late last summer, but never
sealed off and is only separated from the building by a sheetrock wall,
which they suspect provides a pathway for contaminated air from the pod.
It is also from the pod, according to parents, that contaminated porous
materials, such as books, were transferred into the school and, they said,
it is the pod that appears to be the source of many chronic illnesses,
such as headache, respiratory ailments and nosebleeds.
Reilly and Pecoriello said that they, too, wanted a comprehensive plan,
but wanted testing first. "We have a work-order set. It would only take
three days," Reilly said, adding that the parents would pay for the cost
They also called for an independent expert of their choosing, an
air-quality specialist, who has worked on mold conditions in the Easton
school district, to participate in the development of the comprehensive
The state health officials said that they held that individual in high
regard and Joseloff said after the meeting that the adding of the expert
to the planning process in a consulting role would make sense.
The pod became the focus of a lack of trust issue at the meeting. Reilly,
for example, said that he would have expected Landon to have seen to the
sealing-off of the pod and the preventing of the transfer of porous
materials from the pod into the school.
He took Landon to task for saying that the school did not have a mold
problem in response to the air-quality analysis in May, which reported
normal "fungal" levels at the school
"The pod is part of the school," Reilly said, asking also why it took nine
months for the school administration to start removing suspected carpet
from the school and doing other remedial work.
The parent committee is attempting to obtain a copy of the document that
was filed by the school system last month, in which the state requires
schools to assess the condition of their buildings.
Reilly told the Westport News earlier this week that remnants of the
carpeting, which he was able to retrieve and send for analysis last week,
are now known to have mold spores. He said the laboratory is now
determining the species of the mold that was detected.
Landon defended himself at the meeting as someone totally committed to the
safety of children, citing the fact that he has not permitted students to
work in the community gardens or eat produce from the garden.
"There are suspicions of chemicals in the soil," Landon said, indicating
that he was continuing the ban despite being criticized for the action.
He defended the carpet removal as part of a program to remove all
carpeting from the schools, as reported in the Westport News, and he added
that KHS had been scheduled for the carpet removal this summer, denying
any validity to the assumption that the removal came in response to
However, Landon did not enhance his credibility with the parents when he
said that he had been served a "cease and desist" order that was
instituted by the parents that now prevents him, under advice of counsel,
from doing any further remediation.
Reilly responded that there had been no such order served, at least not
yet, and that the parents also want all carpeting out of the school, but
only after it is tested.
Documents show that the parent committee's attorney did request that the
work stop and did warn of possible legal action, if it did not. But Reilly
told this newspaper earlier in the week that the parent committee had
legal action on hold until after the Wednesday meeting.
Pressed after the meeting for an explanation of these different accounts
of the carpeting matter and asked if he had actually been served a court
order, Landon acknowledged that he had not, but said the school system's
attorney had advised him that the letter from the committee's attorney was
equivalent to such an order.
Parent skepticism has been fueled, in part, by the fact that the school
administration did not make public a mold study of the pod that was done
last September after the pod was closed, which showed serious
contamination, but did release the May study that was favorable.
Several members of the Board of Education were present at the meeting,
including the board's vice chairman, Marjorie Cion, who confirmed after
the meeting that the closing of the pod and the September study never made
it onto the board's public agenda, as either an action or discussion item.
"In hindsight it would have been better if they had been on the agenda,"
board member Donald O'Day said in response to Cion's observation.
Town Special Committee Meets Tomorrow
08/01/2007 - ...establishing of the Special King's Highway Elementary School (KHS) Maintenance Review Committee, which will meet in public tomorrow to begin an assessment of mold and other air-quality issues at the school in advance of the opening of the school year. similar results
By Frank Luongo
08/01/2007 - I was appalled and embarrassed while at last week's town hall meeting concerning mold at Kings Highway School.
Westport School Mold
08/01/2007 - As director of The Center for School Mold Help, a national, educational nonprofit established to provide information to the public about school mold, I would like to comment on the controversy regarding testing and commend the parents on their strong stance.
Freedman Thanks Health District and Parents
08/01/2007 - I want to thank the Weston Westport Health District in conjunction with the Connecticut Department of Public Health for holding the public meeting in response to parents' concerns regarding the mold problem and other environmental conditions at the King's Highway Elementary School.
Consultant discusses mold, 'the pod' at KHS
By:Meg Learson Grosso, Staff Writer
Gil Cormier said that it was too early to tell, but he did not think that there was one single trigger that was causing the health problems that parents have cited for their children at King's Highway Elementary School.
By Meg Learson Grosso
The consultant from Occupational and Risk Control Services was giving a very preliminary assessment of the school at the King's Highway Elementary School Maintenance Review committee meeting last Thursday at Town Hall.
He was not including a classroom attached to the school, called "the pod," in that assessment. The pod classroom attached to the rear of the school had already been shown to be infested with mold and the pod was scheduled to be
demolished yesterday. Mold in the pod was found not on the inner visible wall, but between the outer wall and the brick facing on that wall, the consultant said.
Cormier later described how the pod would be removed, using great care to make sure that the mold did not spread.
Jay Keenan, RTM, District 2, an architect and member of the committee, asked if Cormier had found anything alarming yet, in the main part of the school.
"There's nothing drastic," said Cormier, who had not yet had access to the whole building.
"Carpeting is a contributing factor," the consultant said, adding that there was "a lot of dust in certain areas," and that dust mites are allergans that can cause a lot of symptoms. Bacteria found in carpets can also cause symptoms, he said, adding that, according to records, the carpets are removed on a regular basis.
Cormier said that in the main building the air-conditioning units may have been a problem (there are individual window units), and in another place a wall backs up to the girl's room where there are plumbing pipes, but "There's nothing outstanding."
He said that he also usually suspects ceiling tiles at entrances and exits of the school and he will look at those. Parent Allison Reilly expressed concern about books and other teaching materials that had been removed from the pod and used in another classroom. She was afraid that the mold had traveled with them. Cormier said that the books hadn't been wet and that he didn't expect the mold to be growing on the books unless there was moisture. He said he had asked custodians about the furniture that was removed from the pod and they said that it had been disinfected.
Mold is one problem in the elementary school at 125 Post Road West, but elevated carbon dioxide readings are another. Cormier said the two are not necessarily related.
High carbon dioxide levels could come from a school that is closed up too tight, he noted, adding that one good thing about an older school is that windows can be opened.
He and Russell Blair, an engineer on the maintenance committee, spoke about the possibility of bringing in air handlers.
Reilly mentioned that the testing for carbon dioxide that had been done during the school year was conducted in one room before the children came to school in the morning and after they had been gone for an hour or two at the end of the day, but Cormier said that carbon dioxide levels decrease slowly, so that the testing was not necessarily invalid.
Cormier spoke about the demolition of the pod and how it would be accomplished. He will be supervising that demolition with Gary Martin, Facilities Manager for the school system.
Gavin Anderson told the Minuteman on Tuesday that he had insisted that air samples be taken last Friday as a baseline before the demolition and that over 340 samples were taken both inside and outside the school. "I'm not someone who cuts corners," said Anderson. He said that the air conditioners will be off and, if necessary, they will be covered.
Anderson said that consultants created a negative air pressure chamber in the hallway between the pod and the school to prevent air from getting into the school. The area was sealed off with plastic and tape. He said that by Tuesday the inside walls of the pod had been taken down and stacked within the pod.
Cormier said that he would ask the demolition team to take utmost care when taking down the outside walls in an attempt to prevent them from separating from the brick facing, if possible. That will prevent mold from spreading.
Asked what kind of mold might be there, he said that he could almost guarantee that there was more than one kind of mold.
There will be three companies involved with the demolition, according to Nancy Harris, Assistant Superintendent for Business for Westport Schools. One was hired to do the preliminary work, such as creating the air chamber and sealing off the school, according to Anderson.
Cormier was hired as the consultant, and a third company was hired to do the actual demolition of the pod. Cormier said that during the demolition he would be inside the school, taking air samples, and that he would stop the demolition, if readings indicated that he should. Parents expressed concern that Gary Martin would be in charge and Cormier might not have the authority to stop the work.
Anderson said that, weather-wise, everyone was hoping for a still day, and if it rained late in the day, that would be a plus.
Anderson said he hopes that the school will be ready for an Aug. 27 opening, but he had asked Nancy Harris to do contingency planning, just in case.
Cormier was asked by parents if the school would open on time and he said that he couldn't yet tell.
He did say that anytime he had said to Gary Martin that something was suspect or should be gotten rid of, he had gotten cooperation. If he asked that a cabinet be cut so that he could see what was behind it, it was done.
©Westport Minuteman 2007
Pod Mold Found More Extensive
Westport-news, WESTPORT, CT*
By Frank Luongo
Floor-to-ceiling mold has been growing between the inner and outer
walls of the permanent portable, or pod, which was scheduled for
demolition and removal today at the King's Highway Elementary School
(KHS) in Westport.
The discovery last week of that amount of mold came as a surprise to
Gil Cormier, an environmental consultant engaged by the school
system with the public support of First Selectman Gordon Joseloff.
That support was given in response to strong advocacy by the KHS
Parent Clean Air Committee that Cormier be hired as an independent
expert to conduct an environmental assessment of the school before
it reopened for the new school year later this month.
At the first meeting last Thursday of the newly formed KHS
Maintenance Committee, which was convened and appointed by Joseloff,
Cormier said that prior to his inspection, the serious mold
contamination found in the testing of the pod last fall was thought
to have been restricted to an area behind the walls closer to floor
The committee is holding a work session tomorrow at 5 p.m. in Room
307 at Westport Town Hall, and its technical subcommittee had a work
session scheduled for this morning.
In response to the discovery, Cormier received approval from the
school business office for the hiring of an abatement company to
encapsulate both the inner and outer walls of the pod before
demolition and removal.
Parent members of the maintenance committee claimed at the meeting
that this additional step indicated that school officials did not
have an adequate safety plan in place for the work on the pod, and
they expressed dismay that their children had been at so much
potential risk for so long in the past school year.
But the chairman of the maintenance committee, Gavin Anderson, in an
e-mail response to an inquiry from this newspaper, said earlier this
week that his committee's initiatives have sped up the process for
implementing safeguards, which, he said the school administration
has accepted "enthusiastically" with "cooperation to the maximum."
Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon, in a letter two weeks ago,
assured KHS parents that they had a "healthy school" in part because
his administration had closed off the pod before the start of the
past school year and would now remove the pod "under the supervision
of qualified and certified contractors."
"We will be working closely with the Westport Weston Health District
to ensure that all work meets the highest health and safety
standards," Landon said in the letter.
The closing of the pod, which Landon described as a sealing-off from
access by students and teachers, was in response, he said, to the
testing that had discovered fungi in the facility.
Landon did not give the date in the letter of that testing, but the
KHS Clean Air Committee has made copies available of the results of
a study done at the school on Sept. 15, 2006.
That report says that airborne and surface samplings of the pod had
detected mold spores "capable of producing microtoxins that may
cause adverse health effects in some individuals."
Parents have said that the report was not released to them or the
wider public during the past school year and that they were kept in
the dark about its contents for the entire year.
The Westport News on Tuesday received a copy of the school
facilities survey, the EDO50 report, that the school system is
required to file each year with the state Education Department.
The survey consists of a single-sheet checklist that rates building
facilities on a scale from poor to excellent and air-quality
mechanical systems as either having no problems or having problems
that are scheduled for correction.
The pod at KHS was not identifiable from the checklist and there
appeared to be no way of reporting mold contamination. No room at
the school received a poor rating from the school facilities
director, who completed the survey.
Air-quality mechanicals were found to be in good shape, except for
needed cleaning of heating, ventilation and air conditioning units
and improving of air-intakes. Carpeting, according to the survey,
would be cleaned or removed.
Cormier said at the meeting that the closing of the pod was done
with a sheetrock cover of the doorway to the school proper, which,
he said, was not air-tight. He said that mold pollution could have
migrated through the sheetrock into the school, but could not say
He described his task as a "puzzle of a thousand pieces" and said
that he still had a number of spots to check out around the school
before he reported on its environmental condition, including above
ceiling tiles and pipes, especially at entrances, through which
humid air comes into the school.
Asked by committee member Jay Keenan, who served on the Staples High
School Building Committee, whether any "drastic" mold conditions had
been found so far in the school proper, Cormier said that he had not
yet found such conditions.
Cormier did express concern about the school's ventilation and air-
exchange system, saying that it appeared to be sucking hot, humid
air into the school and in that way possibly promoting the growth of
The ventilation system could also be contributing to the high level
of carbon dioxide that has been discovered in air testing at the
school, a problem which was noted by state health officials who
recently visited the school.
For several years, five-year capital spending forecasts in school
budgets have included a line item for the upgrading of ventilation
at KHS, and the most recent projection calls for the work to be done
in the 2010-11 school year at an estimated cost of $515,000.
First Selectman Gordon Joseloff has been discussing the possibility
of stepping up the schedule for the completion of the ventilation
upgrade at the school.
In addition to the technical subcommittee, Anderson announced plans
to create four others to deal with health issues at KHS, obtain
further input from parents, plan for possible remediation expenses
and consult with teachers.
Moldy Module at King's Highway School is Demolished
By Don Casciato
08/10/2007 11:52:18 AM EDT
The moldy module (portable) at King's Highway Elementary School is now "essentially gone" after demolition Wednesday, Gavin Anderson, the chairman of the recently established Special Maintenance Review Committee for the King's Highway Elementary School, said yesterday.
"It went pretty well, but there is work to do in a few places," he said. "It was very professionally done. They did a very good job."
Town leaders still have to consider whether carpets at Kings Highway Elementary School pose the risk of further respiratory problems for students and have to be removed prior to the start of school on Aug. 27.
On the one hand, Wednesday morning's heavy rains were viewed favorably because the rain kept dust down in the same basic manner a baseball infield benefits from a sprinkling before the start of a game. But, Anderson said that there was a problem with the winds and humidity after the rain.
Preparation for the demolition work
had been undertaken since last Thursday, according to Anderson and others attending a Wednesday morning meeting in Westport Town Hall before the demolition.
More Meetings Set
The full committee was scheduled to meet again late yesterday afternoon, after the deadline of the Westport News.
Anderson also announced Wednesday that he will attend the Board of Education meeting on Monday and said he wants a carpet decision before the board meets.
Several times during the Wednesday meeting of the Technical Subcommittee, Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon said he was concerned about the carpet issue, among other things.
At one point in the meeting, the superintendent said that if remedial work is done at King's Highway, then he will have to ascertain if similar work is needed at Westport's six other public schools.
"We follow the Department of Public Health code," he said. "If there is a problem we get on it immediately. And we don't want to have a problem somewhere else. We are proactive. We get right on top of it if there is a problem."
Later, after a discussion of carpets, Landon said: "Let me reiterate. If King's Highway carpets are removed, then we might do all of them. We would have to go to Board of Finance [for funds]."
In addition to the carpet removal issue, a question was raised about washing the carpets and using steam extraction to kill mold.
Gil Cormier, the consultant from Occupational Risk Control Services in New Britain who was hired to assist the town and assess the King's Highway situation, suggested they "should follow the protocol" when asked about washing the carpets.
Anderson also told other members of the Technical Subcommittee how he expects the meetings to be conducted.
"The committee meetings are working sessions," he said. "We will not accept interruptions. We will not accept attacks. I will make sure what will happen. We have to conduct the business of the meeting."
Anderson also explained that he will decide whether questions at the end of the meeting (by those attending the meeting) will be permitted. "It will be decided by me," he emphasized.
When Anderson concluded his statement, Steve Smith, a town building official and committee member, said, "Parents will have to have a forum."
Anderson agreed and emphasized "his door is wide open."
Besides the carpets, other subjects discussed include:
- Sealing air conditioning and exhaust units.
- Analysis of the carbon monoxide issue. It was pointed out carbon monoxide might be from gas burners in the King's Highway School. Vehicle exhausts from the Post Road also were cited as a possible source.
- Ventilation systems. Nancy Harris, the assistant superintendent for business of Westport schools, said the King's Highway system is four years old and goes all the way up to the roof.
- Negative air pressure system.
- Sagging ceilings and porous and nonporous ceiling tiles.
Referring to the various topics, Anderson said they all were worth a look. "If we leave out one little dollop there could be a problem," he said.
"Get the baseline. Then if there are other problems we will find out," Cormier emphasized.
Anderson added: "Ongoing sampling will be done. This is our policy. We will sample anything we take out." He also said that he would follow up the list of "to-do" items.
In response to the sampling statement, since a press report accused her of a cover-up because she had an air conditioner removed, Harris said she had not been told of the sampling policy last week. Anderson assured her "I have no problem with any of that."
The fate of the other two modules at King's Highway and whether to open them was also addressed at the Wednesday meeting. Landon voiced concerns because the space is needed for music classes and he didn't want to just discard the portables. Unlike the recently demolished module, they are not connected to the King's Highway School.
Anderson said yesterday that the portable issue will be put on hold and that the main goal is getting the school ready for occupancy in very little time.
"We've got an ongoing process. What we want is to get the school open," said Harris.
And, in what could lead to future projects, Landon also said during the meeting at Town Hall, "This building [Town Hall] really needs to be looked at." The superintendent's office is in Town Hall.
BOE Leaves Sidelines, Takes Up KHS Issues
By Frank Luongo
08/10/2007 11:52:36 AM EDT
Out of the loop on environmental questions at the King's Highway Elementary School (KHS) in the past school year, the Westport Board of Education (BOE) will review the school administration's handling of the school's mold problems in public session on Monday, as the new school year approaches.
BOE Vice Chairman Marjorie Cion disclosed the agenda item in an e-mail response on Tuesday to an inquiry from the Westport News, which she said would be premature to answer before the board members have a chance to look at all the facts in a public forum.
Cion was one of five board members who responded to the question, "Do you think that the school administration was remiss in not reporting to you in public session on the events of the past school year having to do with environmental problems at KHS?"
BOE member Donald O'Day said he did not want to "assign blame or jump to conclusions before there is a public postmortem examination of the timeline," but he said that he would be proposing that the board adopt business processes that would "carefully monitor the progress on key action items and see how the administration is moving against specific milestones."
In a telephone interview Wednesday, O'Day speculated as to how that might have worked out in the KHS matter and said that the BOE would have been well served by an annual report on the condition of school buildings.
O'Day said that a state yearly mandated report, the EDO50 document, could have provided a basis for a discussion of the building's needs, but, he said, that it had not been on the board's public agenda and does not recall having received a copy of the report.
The school business office made a copy of the EDO50 report for the 2006-07 school year available to the Westport News last week. While the single-sheet report did not mention mold in the school, there were corrective measures checked off that might have led to a discussion about air quality.
Also, had the administration reported to the board about an environmental assessment last September of the permanent portable, the so-called pod which was demolished on Wednesday, board members would have been informed about serious mold contamination in that facility.
But even prior to that assessment, the administration had decided to close off the pod because of suspicious odors. That closing did not rise to the level of a board action or even discussion item.
BOE Secretary James Marpe said in an e-mail message that he would wait for the conclusions of the town maintenance committee before he would "judge whether our school administrators should have made more public statements about this particular problem, or taken other action."
"I believe that a board of education should not micro-manage the day-to-day decisions of our educators and administrators. Nevertheless, I am confident that all of my fellow board members will continue to challenge the administration's assumptions and conclusions when we are not certain that the entire picture has been presented," Marpe said.
Board member Kristin LaFleur said that the safety of students is of "utmost concern. It is important to me that our students are safe and that their families believe our schools are safe."
But, LaFleur added, "As a policy-setting entity, the board's role is one of oversight and not day-to-day management of our schools. The administration is responsible for day-to-day management, including HVAC and air quality issues."
"Given recent events, I would expect the board to address the issue and determine, from a policy perspective, what changes, if any, are warranted in the process of addressing parent concerns on issues such as this that may arise in the future," LaFleur said.
BOE Balks On Funds For KHS Testing
By Michael C. Juliano
Article Launched: 08/15/2007 02:02:12 PM EDT
Sparks flew between the Board of Education, First Selectman Gordon F. Joseloff and parents Monday night over which town body would pay $40,000 to conduct an air-quality study at King's Highway Elementary School.
Gavin Anderson, chairman of the Kings Highway Maintenance Committee, said a portable classroom where mold was found has been demolished and completely removed. There may, however, be mold in other parts of the school, which was built in the 1926. Anderson also said levels of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide have been found at the school.
"The priority is the rest of the school," he said.
The last major renovation to the school was in 1994.
Anderson said there may be mold in the gymnasium, which is partially underground.
"The gymnasium is really a concern," he said, noting that its storage room may have water leaking into it. "There is a dank odor when you enter that room."
He also said some of the school's carpeting had water stains, indicating that water collected underneath it.
"Carpeting is always a concern," he said. "Do I test it? Do I steam it? Do I remove it?"
Anderson there was also a concern as to whether the ventilation at the school, which was designed to have open windows, was adequate given that
the school's windows are closed due to the use of air conditioning.
"We should have a ventilation balance study," he said.
Anderson said $40,600 would be needed by the next day to have an air-quality study of the school conducted by New Britain-based Occupational Risk Control Services before the school's opening day on Aug. 27.
Board of Education Chairman Mary Parmelee said the Board of Finance should be asked to take the money out of the town's General Fund so that the board is seen as independent of the committee, which was formed due to trust issues.
"I believe the independence of this committee is critical," she said.
Board member Mark Mathias said he'd support the money coming from the Board of Education, which could appropriate the funds immediately, instead of it coming from the General Fund, which would require approvals from the Board of Finance and the Representative Town Meeting.
"I see it as all coming out of the same pocket," he said. "I certainly don't want to see something happen where we were not to approve it, it would take three or four more days to get it."
Parmelee said the board's independent stance would be compromised if it were to pay for the testing.
Joseloff said the Board of Education is responsible for the maintenance of the schools.
"We have a crisis of confidence here," he said. "I think your remarks are detrimental in fact. I think there should be a purchase order issued tomorrow by the school system for the testing."
Joseloff said he would back the appropriation of extra funds by the Board of Finance to help pay for the testing.
"We need to get it done," he said. "We can argue later about this or that."
Board member Meg Cion agreed with Parmelee by saying the committee could be seen as not acting independently of the board if it paid for the testing.
Anderson said, "I don't care where the money is coming from."
Although the board agreed ultimately to fund the $40,600 for the testing, several parents at the meeting spoke critically of the Board of Education's handling of the situation.
Anne Dinshaw, a parent of a student at the school, asked, "Why wasn't the pod taken down sooner?"
Brendan Reilly, a parent with two children at the school who helped start the King's Highway Clean Air Committee, said 14 out of 19 students in a class attended by one of his children are very sick.
"We are here because of the children," he said. "When I hear things about budgeting, other committees and parliamentary protocol where you're trying to figure out who's going to pay for what, it is disturbing."
KHS Opening Appears Likely
By Frank Luongo
Article Launched: 08/15/2007 02:02:15 PM EDT
Judging from the tenor of the discussion last Thursday at the second meeting of the special King's Highway School (KHS) Maintenance Committee, there is a strong expectation that, with the exception of two portable units, the school will be considered safe for the opening of the school year on Aug. 27.
The technical assessment of KHS building has advanced far enough along, in fact, for the committee to begin expanding its focus beyond the search for signs of mold contamination to the gathering of information from KHS parents, teachers and administrators about the history of reported school-related health problems.
Gavin Anderson, the committee chairman, said that "no smoking gun" had been found to date in the inspection of the school proper by environmental consultant Gil Cormier and committee member Jay Keenan, a Westport architect and member of the Representative Town Meeting, but that there would not be enough time to make a similar assessment of the portables before the start of the school year.
Anderson urged parents attending the meeting and those watching the meeting on town television to contact him with their health issues at ganderson13@ earthlink.net, or to telephone in their information to committee member
Monica Wheeler, director of community health for the Westport Weston Health District, at 227-9571, ext. 242.
Cormier, who has been at the school almost daily since his first visit at the end of July and had not yet completed his inspection at the time of the committee's meeting last week, said he was likely to have up to 100 air and material samples for laboratory analysis, but said that he had not yet found evidence of mold issues in the school proper that he would call "outstanding," nothing like the mold that he uncovered in the now-demolished and removed permanent modular that been attached to the school building.
Westport Educational Association representative on the committee, Ed Huydic, called the inspection a "work in progress," but said he had not yet "heard anything startling."
For his part, Keenan said he did a walk-around of the outside and inside of the building and found "only minor problems" and no sign of water incursion behind the walls or in the attic. He said that the pointing of the outside brick appeared to be in good shape and that the attic was "bone dry."
"We still want to stick our heads above the ceilings and we need to know more about the history of past leaks for our review," Keenan said. He indicated that there were some areas that would require cutting into the walls for further inspection.
Cormier said that the drains at the bottom of stairwells in the school showed signs of having taken a large amount of water in the past, and he said that there was evidence of a water condition on the concrete floor and walls of the boiler room.
Although Keenan said that he had not found water collecting, or "ponding," on the school roof, Cormier said he could a see water reflected in the light coming off the roof of the gymnasium, but Assistant Superintendent for Business Nancy Harris, a member of the committee, said there had been no reports of roof problems since the recent roof-replacement work at the school.
The wall on the west side of the gymnasium, which is below ground level, appeared to have taken water in the past, according to Cormier. Committee member Joseph Strickland, chairman of the town Public Site and Building Committee, pointed out that an active stream runs under the gymnasium floor. "We might need to take a look at that," Strickland said.
Committee member Russell Blair said that he needed to take a closer look at the relatively high levels of carbon dioxide, reported in six classrooms in an air-quality analysis completed last May, before coming to any conclusions about remedies for that condition, but he did say that a kitchen exhaust might be part of the problem.
"We need to see if the system is functioning correctly. A fan in the kitchen might be taking in carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide and moving it around," Blair said, adding that the levels are unacceptable, but not dangerously high.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Moisture, Mold Found in King’s Highway Gym Walls
The special committee investigating air quality at Westport’s King’s Highway Elementary School was told today that moisture and mold have been found in the gymnasium.
Remediation efforts will be undertaken beginning next week, said Gavin Anderson, committee chair, and the gym may not be available for use by the time school opens Aug. 27.
Disclosure of moisture and mold behind the gym walls followed concerns expressed earlier by committee members about the gym, most of which is below ground level.
Anderson said, however, there was a positive in the mold and moisture finding.
"I don’t want to be alarmist, but I think you should think of the gymnasium and what we are finding here in fact as a positive thing,” he told a committee meeting at Town Hall. “If there is water running down behind a wall, we know about it now.”
Assistant Superintendent Nancy Harris, a member of the special committee appointed July 30 by First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, said a Norwalk firm has already been contacted and is scheduled to carry out the remediation work over three days next week.
Anderson said the committee would be investigating the source of the moisture.
“There are a number of places where the water could be coming from and we need to find those out as well,” he said. “There’s no point in sealing up a wall and then letting the water run and creating further problems.”
Joseloff appointed the committee in response to parental complaints that there was evidence of illnesses among students which they suspected was linked to air quality issues at the school.
A portable classroom where mold had been found in September 2006 was demolished last week. (See WestportNow Aug. 8, 2007)
Posted 08/16 at 06:58 PM
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