Firm makes suggestions for Ashley mold treatment

Firm makes suggestions for Ashley mold treatment
April 27
09:20 2018

During the Board of Education (BOE) Meeting held on Tuesday, April 24, representatives from Mid Atlantic Associates, a Raleigh-based engineering and environments consulting firm, released a new indoor air quality report of Ashley Academy for Cultural & Global Studies.

Earlier this year, faculty, staff and students complained that a lingering mold issue inside the school was causing breathing and upper respiratory problems.

Since that time district officials have hired two independent companies to test various locations of the school for mold. The initial results from Trinity Environmental showed that mold was present in the school but not enough to harm staff and students.

While that may be the case, several grass root organizations, including the Ministers’ Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity (MCWSV) and the local NAACP branch, have voiced their frustration with what they call a lack of urgency on the part of the Board of Education. Many believe if Ashley was on a different side of town, or served a different demographic of students, something would have already been done about the mold at the school.

In 2015, after parents complained about toxic vapors being released inside Hanes Lowrance Magnet School, the BOE voted to move students, although the vapors were not toxic.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Alex Bohannon, a candidate for the Board of Education’s District 1 in the upcoming primary election, and incumbent County Commissioner Flemming El-Amin urged board members to consider the perception of the public when making decisions on the situation at Ashley.

Bohannon, who is a product of the WS/FCS system, said, “Keep perception and reality at the forefront of your minds in future conversations regarding the Ashley Academy. Every decision you make will shape the public’s perceptions and the community’s perception about the quality and the depth of care you have for our students, particularly our most vulnerable.”

El-Amin, who also is a product of the WS/FCS system, said his concern is the emotional reaction of the public and stakeholders at the school as well. He said if one teacher has the perception that mold caused their illness, that’s a serious issue.

“We need serious urgency for a follow-up plan. I know the value system of the school system is phenomenal. I also know the problems we have. Ashley is a problem,” El-Amin said.

According to the final report, which was presented by William Service, a representative from Mid Atlantic, “generally” the building was clean and well maintained. Service said after conducting a walkthrough of the building his team found nothing that would contribute to mold growing in classrooms, on walls or on materials such as books and desk.

“We did not see any evidence of roof leaks or moisture problems that would cause mold to grow in the general environment that you usually see,” Service continued. “… If moisture is properly controlled in the indoor environment, it won’t grow in the indoor environment and that’s sort of the benchmark we look at.”
While moisture doesn’t seem to be an issue in the general area of the school, there does seem to be moisture problems inside several classroom HVAC units, likely caused by water leaks.

Service said, his team identified areas of mold growth and identified mold growth from samples taken from the HVAC units last month.

Although the HVAC unit was cleaned by a contractor at the beginning of the 2017 school year Service said, any HVAC unit is difficult to clean when moisture gets inside and mold starts growing. He also mentioned the HVAC units are about 20 years old and don’t provide for any mechanical outdoor ventilation.

“I will say the cleaning that was done was done very well but it’s extraordinary difficult to clean units like those that have had chronic moisture problems like those have,” he continued. “… There’s radiant heat in those classrooms and the only means of getting outdoor air ventilation into the building or into those classrooms are by operable windows.

“The lack of outdoor ventilation isn’t necessarily hazardous but it makes a space, particularly a crowded space, stuffy, and uncomfortable and odorous.”

To fix the issues at the school, Service recommends replacing the HVAC units. He said he could find mold in almost any HVAC unit but there is a lot in the units at Ashley.

“If they’re not replaced, we recommend replacing the insulation inside the units and annual cleaning of those units, which is going to be difficult and certainly not as beneficial as replacement. The other benefit of replacing those units would be you could bring in units that would allow for mechanical provision of outdoor air ventilation.”

Following the presentation, board chair Dana Caudill Jones said the board needs time to look over the full report and the recommendations before they make a decision. The Board voted to hold a meeting on Tuesday, May 1. It is unclear if the board will make a decision at that time.

The full version of the air quality evaluation conducted at Ashley can be viewed on the WS/FCS website.

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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