Mold discovery closes Prospect Elementary for two weeks

Prospect Elementary School will be closed for about two weeks to clean out a mold infestation problem discovered around Aug. 28.

SALAMANCA — The Prospect Elementary School campus has been closed for the first week of school due to a spread of mold throughout the building.

The Salamanca City Central School District learned around Aug. 28 that instances of mold had been growing in several classrooms at the elementary school, Superintendent Robert Breidenstein shared at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting.

Since the mold was discovered, Prospect Elementary has remained closed for in-person instruction with students and staff continuing the virtual learning model nearly all students participated in the past 18 months.

The building’s closure is expected to last until Sept. 15 when the cleaning process is expected to conclude, Breidenstein said.

The district hired Stohl Environmental, which tested approximately 18 rooms and found multiple instances of above baseline and substantially above baseline for mold, Breidenstein explained. Upon learning of all the areas with mold, he said the district hired Metro Environmental for professional remediation of the sites.

“At this point, there are approximately 54 spaces at Prospect,” he said. “Of those 54 spaces, 23 are clean, mold clear, no concerns. Thirteen are nearly done but are still having some ongoing monitoring in those spaces, and 12 are still listed as a concern.”

Breidenstein said the excessive amounts of humidity for several days in late August combined with the building’s HVAC system not calibrating to adjust to the increase in humidity. He said the system was in “unoccupied mode” and sucking in the humid air.

Although there are small amounts of mold found in most structures because of the overall climate, the conditions in late August were a perfect storm to make the mold grow in the school.

“We’ve addressed what we believe were the causes and have a remediation plan to keep the building at an optimal humidity level for us so we don’t have a recurrence,” he said.

As of Tuesday night, Breidenstein said about one-third of the classrooms still need to be cleared and cleaned.

In the meantime, district staff has had to pull significant amounts of items out of classrooms that mold tends to grow on — organic materials such as paper, wood, books, construction paper, etc. Breidenstein said the district will have to work with Metro to help clean and restore the spaces still affected.

“My best guess and estimate, barring any unforeseen setbacks, is that we will accept students back on Wednesday, Sept. 15,” he said. “We may make more progress in cleaning the consumable items that have been removed from the classrooms.”

Breidenstein said a number of items will have to be replaced rather than cleaned. For items that can be cleaned, there is a tent on campus where items that have been bagged and sealed to go for cleaning.

Only one room that had been cleaned had an instance of mold reappearing on a wooden table that will now be disposed of, Breidenstein said.

On Thursday, staff will be trained on how to properly clean any items that can be saved and returned to the classroom, Breidenstein said. He said the main concern is to get as many classrooms as clean and put back together as safely and quickly as possible.

“As we’ve discussed previously — whether it’s COVID or snow days — if it’s not safe we’re not opening the buildings,” he said. “This isn’t going to be one person making the decision. Ultimately I will be the one to make the final decision, but if there’s a concern, then we will hear it from the staff, building administrators, central office or cleaning and custodial crews.”

About a dozen industrial dehumidifiers were delivered to Prospect Tuesday to suck any additional moisture out of the classrooms, Breidenstein said. Engineers have recommended purchasing an external humidity monitor for the building’s HVAC system to make the necessary adjustments to be ahead of any future weather conditions.

Breidenstein said parents and guardians were notified Tuesday afternoon that Prospect will likely remain closed for about a week. He said anyone with questions can contact Prospect’s principal or any district administrator.

(Contact managing editor Kellen Quigley at kquigleysp@gmail.com)