Marlboro School Board Addresses Air Quality Concerns With Compromise After Second Tests Showed No Mold

Marlboro School Board Addresses Air Quality Concerns With Compromise After Second Tests Showed No Mold
Posted on 12/20/2017

With a second air quality test again showing no mold issues at Bennettsville Intermediate School in Marlboro County, the school board voted Monday night to keep third and fourth grades at the school but to allow parents to transfer their children to other schools if space is available and according to school district policy.

Informal surveys and recent forums indicated most families and teachers wanted to stay at Bennettsville, school board members and district leaders said.

“We don’t need to cause any more disruption in any of our schools,” School Board member Mackey Norton said, adding that the board had been misled earlier in the year about air quality problems in several schools.

The board also voted to move all six classes of fifth grade from Bennettsville Intermediate to Clio Elementary/Middle for the second semester of this school year. That move will give the school district time to review options at Bennettsville Intermediate, including possibly placing mobile classrooms on the site to house fifth graders next school year while renovations are underway.

“We are making progress and we are moving forward with our students, our staff and our community,” School Board Chair Lucy Parsons said. “We have had two different air quality scientists examine Bennettsville Intermediate, and the both said there aren’t any health hazards there.

“Our board solution will keep the third and fourth grades in the newer part of the school, we will temporarily relocate the fifth graders and their teachers to Clio for the rest of this school year, and we will continue to press ahead with our facility improvements, starting at BIS,” she said.

This week the Marlboro County School Board received a second scientific report by an industrial hygienist from tests conducted Dec. 9 at Bennettsville Intermediate. This report, like the first one based on samples taken in May, showed “no conditions that would warrant the removal ... of faculty/students from Bennettsville Intermediate.”

Earlier this month, Michael Underhill, an industrial hygienist and president of Elysium Environmental Services of Summerville, SC, conducted follow-up air quality tests at Bennettsville Intermediate. In May, a different company, GEL Engineering, tested the school.

“Based on our observations at the time of the inspection and air sampling, there are currently no conditions that would warrant the evacuation, removal and transfer of faculty/students from Bennettsville Intermediate School due to the presence of microbial hazards,” Underhill wrote in his summary of his tests from the school Dec. 9, 2017.

“The school is visually clean and no visible mold colonization was uncovered,” he said. “Some of the recommendations contained in the GEL report (from May 2017) have been completed while others remain to be implemented. These recommendations should be completed in a timely fashion and a consistent and improved facility maintenance plan should be implemented.”

The school district has access to more than $1 million in state “Abbeville funds” to renovate and make improvements at Bennettsville Intermediate. District leaders said a comprehensive facility maintenance and improvement plan will be recommended as part of the upcoming Fiscal Year 2019 budget.

Underhill’s analysis of air samples collected inside Bennettsville Intermediate School included tests from the Administrative office area, the 200 Wing, A Wing and B Wing. Compared to the May 2017 tests, the December results showed:

  • Lower levels of mold spores in the air in the administrative offices, the 200 Wing and B Wing, all within acceptable indoor air quality criteria
  • Similar mold types were observed inside the building in the Administrative office area, the 200 Wing and B Wing when compared to the outside of the building
  • A few of the samples collected in A Wing, in the media center and material storage indicated additional cleaning of settled dust should take place, cardboard boxes should be removed and unused paper materials should be discarded as mold spore levels were higher in some sections of A Wing when compared to the rest of the school
  • Additional new air conditioning units and dehumidifiers should be installed in A Wing and likely will further lower mold spore levels in this section of the building
  • Recommendations that were submitted in the GEL Engineering report should be completed.

Responding to a small group of parents who claimed minor mold at Bennettsville Intermediate was making their children sick, the Marlboro County School Board on Dec. 4 voted to transfer all Bennettsville students and staff to new schools after the winter break.

Follow-up meetings with parents, teachers and community members Dec. 12, 13 and 14 showed a strong desire by most to stay at Bennettsville Intermediate.

Under the board’s vote Monday night, parents of children with possible health conditions may ask that their child be transferred in January from Bennettsville Intermediate to another school. Each case will be considered on its own merits by Acting Superintendent Dr. John Lane and according to district policies on student transfers.

The board voted 6-1 to move the fifth grade to Clio in January, and to explore the options of bringing mobile classrooms to house them at Bennettsville for the 2018-2019 school year. Such a change would require various reviews and approvals, including by the S.C. Office of School Facilities, making it unfeasible to complete this winter.            

In Underhill’s testing Dec. 9, his visual inspection didn’t show any visible mold growth. “There were a few water-stained ceiling tiles from minor roof leaks but no visible mold growth was associated with the water-stained ceiling tiles … (but) there were no musty, obnoxious or ‘off’ odors observed in the school that would be associated with mold growth.”

He noted that a roof leak had dampened the carpet in the principal’s office but no visible mold growth was associated with this leak.

Underhill and Ron Sharpe of GEL Engineering both concluded that mold wasn’t a danger to student or staff health at Bennettsville Intermediate.

Since mid-summer, the Marlboro County School District has hired ServPro to scrub down BIS; installed new air-conditioners with built-in dehumidifiers; and stepped up maintenance of air filters and grills to remove built-up dust and debris.