Leaks, mold concern school
San Bernardino Sun - San Bernardino,CA*
Wendy Leung, Staff Writer
FONTANA - Many rejoiced when some much-needed rain arrived in recent
weeks, but not the students and teachers at Kaiser High School.
Because when it rains there, it really pours.
Take Garth Masik's computer class. During lunchtime earlier this
month, a ceiling tile in his room gave way to what Kathy Phillips,
the teacher next door, described as a "waterfall coming out of the
"The door was opened between our two rooms and all of a sudden I
heard what sounded like somebody jumping in the pool," Phillips
said. "A one-foot sheet of water was coming out of the ceiling."
Kaiser High, on Almond Avenue, is just nine years old - too young to
have yellowed ceilings and soggy carpets. The Fontana Unified School
District says it is fixing the problems, but some teachers are
worried that signs of an ailing school - found in classrooms, the
administration building and the library - are proof that the
school's health is in decline.
Math teacher Meredith Hergenrader says it's not just the school
that's unhealthy. She's been having health problems for years while
working in Building D, a modular building, and believes the culprit
is toxic mold. Her doctor has diagnosed her with hypersensitive
pneumonitis - a lung disease - and said she's allergic to
aspergillus, a common mold.
This school year, Hergenrader has missed nearly 30 days of school
due to illness. She said her condition improves when she's not in
"They need to figure out why the building is causing me to be sick,"
According to Larry Wilkie, director of risk management for Fontana
Unified, the school district has responded to concerns by cleaning
the duct system and air conditioner and removing the carpeting. The
district also conducted two mold tests, one in October and another
Annie Benjamin of EMLab P&K, which analyzed the October test
conducted by Wilkie, confirmed that the amount of indoor mold at the
school was negligible.
Ben Kollmeyer of Forensic Analytical Consulting Services, which
conducted the December test, said after a visual inspection,
moisture readings in the walls and analysis of air samples, it was
determined that the indoor air was comparable to the outdoor air and
the mold spore count was normal.
But testing for mold can be a tricky task, said Jean Cox-Ganser of
the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a
division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mold spores can be easy to miss, she said, and test results often
hinge on when samples are taken.
"Don't let water damage carry on," Cox-Ganser said. "It's not rocket
science. It's obvious, but schools often don't have the budget to
Before the carpet was taken out of Hergenrader's classroom, the
smell was hard for some students and staff to bear.
Sophia Alaniz, one of Hergenrader's students, said before the
carpeting was removed that the classroom sometimes made her eyes red
Art teacher Alison Denning has heard about those symptoms before.
Ten years ago, the Kaiser High teacher taught at Southridge Middle
School and claims that the musty classrooms there gave her and her
students flu-like symptoms that made it impossible to conduct a
Denning said the environment at the Southridge school permanently
damaged her lungs. She filed a lawsuit against the school district.
Ten years later, the suit is still pending.
She said officials at the Southridge school weren't accommodating,
but the administration at Kaiser High is sensitive to her needs.
Denning also has had water drip on her at Kaiser High and suspects
the problems are intrinsic to the school's modular buildings.
Shawn Kingsley, director of maintenance and operations, said that
while some of the structures are considered modular buildings, they
are on permanent foundations.
He said leaking sometimes happens when outsized equipment is
delivered by dropping it through the ceiling after the building is
"If it's something that we can't fix, we use a major roof repair
company to get to the leak," Kingsley said.
Complaints about the school's administration and library building
ceased after the roof was rebuilt to stop the leaks there, Kingsley
Earlier this month, a bad valve on an irrigation line flooded the
elevator shaft of the administration building.
One thing that continues to puzzle school employees is the tapestry
from the Kaiser Steel Mill that hangs in the library.
Sporadic black spots have formed on the artwork, casting dark clouds
over once bright scenery.
"It certainly didn't look like that when I first started working
here," Denning said