Last week’s high temperatures and humidity appear to have adversely affected indoor air quality at Cider Mill and Middlebrook Schools, with the latter testing positive for mold spore growth in some first-floor classrooms.
On Thursday night, Sept. 7, Wilton Public Schools Superintendent Kevin Smith told the Board of Education about remediation steps being taken to address the problems, which began recently when staff noticed odor issues at Middlebrook and condensation problems at Cider Mill.
“The heat and humidity over the last few weeks has been really, really challenging,” Smith said, “and so we have some indoor air concerns in a few places, in two of our buildings.”
After two staff members on the “Yellow Team” at Middlebrook reported odors in their respective classrooms on the first floor of the building, visual inspections of the building were conducted by maintenance staff. Based on what was found, administrators made the determination to bring in an engineer from Atlas Technical Consultants, a nationwide firm specializing in infrastructure and environmental issues that has done various projects with the Wilton School District.
Smith said engineer Scott Johnson, who has worked with the school district in the past, “came on site and performed some indoor air-quality testing in several places” at Middlebrook.
Classrooms 104 and 110 on the first floor demonstrated “results that were higher than normal with levels of mold spores,” while classrooms 105 and 111, along with a small office nearby, “had slightly elevated levels of mold spores.”
To address the issue, Smith said, students and teachers moved out of classrooms 104 and 110. High-efficiency particulate absorbing (HEPA) filter “air scrubbers” and dehumidifiers were brought in to dry out the classrooms, and custodial staff “re-cleaned” the rooms. Ventilation units were also cleaned out, new filters were installed, and both visual probing and infrared-camera examinations were made of ceilings and walls.
“The good news there is there was nothing behind the walls, nothing above the ceiling,” Smith said, “and so we think at Middlebrook the cause of the issue was the heat and humidity.”
He explained that the custodians had shampooed the carpets close to the start of school, and that they didn’t entirely dry out, resulting in some mold growth.
“We [have since] re-shampooed all of the carpets (and) treated them with mold cleansers,” Smith said.
Ironically, however, while room 105 showed good retesting results afterward, levels in rooms 104, 110 and 111 came back even higher.
Consequently, the carpet was removed this week from room 104 and replaced with tile — something that will also be done in rooms 110 and 111 in the next few days.
“So those rooms should be back to normal,” Smith said.
“Because this is a concern, we’ve got Scott Johnson from ATC coming back on Monday to also do some testing in other parts of the building,” he said.
Maintenance staff, he said, “also has got the dehumidifiers running in the small office that was also a concern, and they have re-activated their Tools for Schools team and next week they’re going to tour the whole building and just again record any concerns.”
Smith pointed out that the district had already been made aware of how moisture in the slab upon which that wing of the Middlebrook building is situated was likely seeping in from below ground.
“It’s very likely that we’ll pull the carpets out in those other first-floor classrooms and change them out,” he said.
Based on the approximately $3,000 cost of doing so to classroom 104, Smith estimated that the flooring work for the 15 first-floor classrooms would run the district “somewhere between $50[,000] and $60,000” in total.
“I will bring those estimates back to you once there are good numbers,” he said, with Johnson meeting with staff members on Wednesday to answer their questions about the situation.
Smith said the rest of the Middlebrook building will “probably be fine,” but added they would “continue to be led by the experts” in how they handled their response.
Cider Mill Humidity Intrusion
Smith gave less detail on the situation at Cider Mill, but said a section of the building situated below ground level is showing signs of humidity intrusion.
“Years ago we changed out the flooring there,” he said, but the balance of circulating fresh air into the building while trying not to bring in more humidity, was a tricky one.
“Again, the way those chiller units are set, they’re drawing humid air into the building,” he said.
Staff members observed moisture collecting on ceiling tiles, prompting maintenance staff to do “multiple cleanings,” displacing an undisclosed number of students from several classrooms in that area for a period of time that Smith didn’t detail.
“Once we get to fairer weather, those problems should resolve,” Smiths said.
“When relative humidity in buildings (is) around 70%, these things happen … Things will revert to normal with a humidity break,” he said.
The Tools for Schools team has also been activated at Cider Mill, where Smith said olfactory and visual inspections will help determine if there are more issues.
“I think we know what the problems are and I think we’ve got a good plan in place,” he said, noting he felt good with the progress. “The follow-on air testing that’s being done is just to insure that the mitigations are being effective.”
The Board of Education may consider holding a special meeting on Wednesday night, Sept. 13, if there is significant news about the situation it feels warrants a public update.
Smith said people should contact him or the school principals if they have any questions.
“It’s not a welcome problem at this point in the year (but) I feel good about the progress they’re making,” he said.