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East County Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020 1 week ago

Expert finds no mold threat at Gene Witt

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Some of the elementary school's parents still have concerns about their children's learning environment.
by: Liz Ramos Staff Writer

Gene Witt Elementary School parents still have concerns after an indoor environmental quality assessment of the school didn’t find any building conditions to be of “unique concern.”

Dr. Rene Salazar, a certified industrial hygienist and University of South Florida assistant professor, was hired to submit a report on the 26-year-old school that looked into whether there was mold after several parents demonstrated concerns.

Salazar spoke to administrators, district officials and concerned parents after he conducted walk-through observations of indoor and outdoor areas along with easily accessible ventilation system components.

His report states, “obvious indicators of suspect microbial reservoirs, particularly mold, were not detected at the time of evaluation,” which was in December.

During a School Advisory Council meeting Feb. 6, Salazar reviewed photos and his findings with parents. 

He found stained ceiling tiles, dust accumulation and moisture effects on surfaces in the clinic restroom. Salazar showed a photo of mold in the ceiling of the restroom of the clinic.

“There must have been some water; there must have been some moisture somewhere,” he said. “Water accumulated here had the effects on the inside of the clinic and then of course, we had some moldy or discolored areas that are affected there.”

In the cafeteria, Salazar said the condensation from the freezer interfacing with the heat of the kitchen is causing possible mold growth.

“I don’t know what to say other than that’s going to just take routine cleaning because there is no foolproof way of keeping it at bay other than doing a complete revamping and reinstallation somehow of this cooler,” Salazar said. 

Salazar provided several recommendations to the School District of Manatee County that included addressing efflorescence effects on exterior and interior walls; conducting timely, routine and thorough dusting of environmental surfaces; replacing stained ceiling tiles; and identifying and eliminating the source of moisture affecting the ceiling in the clinic. 

Principal David Marshall said the school has completed almost all of Salazar’s recommendations except for addressing efflorescence effects on exterior and interior walls.

Salazar also collected indoor environmental parameter data that included temperature, relative humidity and carbon dioxide levels. Salazar said carbon dioxide levels being higher than what is generally recommended by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers shows there could be a problem with the school’s ventilation systems.

Salazar recommended providing timely, routine and thorough cleaning and sanitization of ventilation supply and return air registers.

“I’m thinking the only way to resolve this is we’re just going to have to be mindful, and when you see [dust], you have to deal with it,” he said. 

Salazar said many of the issues he found can be resolved with “elbow grease,” meaning proper maintenance and cleaning of the facilities. 

Marshall said the school’s four custodians are working hard to ensure the school is clean. The district average of square footage for a custodian to cover is 25,000 square feet, and Gene Witt has four custodians to cover about 108,000 square feet, Marshall said. 

Alyscia McDermott, a parent, is grateful for Salazar’s assessment but continues to have concerns. 

“I’m grateful that we didn’t find the mold that we expected to see, but as [Salazar] said, he did an on-the-surface search,” McDermott said. “What we parents have asked is what happens if when they start taking these buildings apart and you find microbial growth inside where there have been leaks for 25 years that we cannot see the results?” 

Going forward, McDermott wants the custodial staff at Gene Witt to be given the “resources necessary for them to be able to do their jobs because they are being handicapped by not having enough people.”

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