Burgettstown Area elementary students are expected to return to the classroom today after classes were canceled Monday due to air quality concerns in the district buildings, but Burgettstown Middle-High School students will be off the rest of the week. Avella Area students are also expected to return today, after school was canceled Monday for a third day.
Burgettstown conducted air quality testing after receiving complaints from students and staff, and because of the attention Avella has received since closing Thursday and Friday after elevated mold spore levels were found.
Superintendent James Walsh said parents, teachers and students were complaining last week that the classrooms at the high school may not be mold-free after mold was found in the building before the start of the school year and remediated.
“There was a lot of community and social media concerns that we weren’t addressing the problem,” he said. “It’s the concern of teachers that we may have new problems.”
He said the district had air quality testing done Saturday, both indoor and outdoor. He had not yet received the result, when he decided to close the district Monday. By Monday afternoon, Walsh received the results, clearing the elementary building for students to return but not the high school building. Walsh said a restoration company will be cleaning the high school this week and is expected to finish Friday. Until then, junior and senior high school students will be out of class.
“We have days built in for make-up, and we’ll see what the state wants us to do about that,” Walsh said.
The elementary students will return to class Tuesday. Walsh said high school outdoor sport practices or activities are still on, but any indoor sports or extracurricular activities have been canceled.
Walsh said the inspector didn’t see any mold Saturday, but was concerned about the humidity levels.
“The humidity outside meant the buildings stayed damp,” Walsh said. “There’s too much outside moisture coming in.”
The district has been using dehumidifiers and air filters to try to prevent mold in those areas of the buildings that have had trouble in the past.
“These machines do a great job pulling mold, dust and other particulates out of the air,” Walsh said in a letter to parents. “I believe the rooms we treated are cleaner than they have ever been. Without any foolproof prevention on the market, we have to remain vigilant. Mold could suddenly appear, given the prevailing conditions. If it happens, we know what to do.”
Walsh said the district has already requested guidance from a heating, ventilation and air conditioning company on how to reduce humidity throughout the buildings.
Avella schools remained closed for a third school day Monday after elevated levels of mold spores were found in both the elementary and junior/senior high school buildings last week.
Superintendent Cyril Walther said the buildings were cleaned by a restoration company over the weekend and retesting of the air quality was done. Slightly elevated levels were still found in two high school rooms, although Walther said the levels are actually lower than the air outside the buildings.
He said the company is running air scrubbers in the two classrooms and that school is expected to be back in session today. Walther said restoration company representatives said classes could have been held Monday with a two-hour delay, but he decided to wait so the scrubbers could run for an extended period. “We want to make sure it’s safe and there are no distractions,” he said.
Walther said testing at the Avella schools determined the mold spores are soil-borne and the rainy, humid weather is probably to blame for the elevated levels outside. He said all district carpets were cleaned before the start of the school year and because of the humidity levels, it’s likely they never completely dried, which allowed mold to grow.
He said all district carpets have again been steam-cleaned with an antimicrobial solution, all hard surfaces have been cleaned, and the district’s air-conditioning units have been checked to make sure they are not contributing to the problem.