SALAMANCA — The Prospect Elementary School campus has been closed for the first two weeks of school due to a spread of mold throughout the building.
The Salamanca City Central School District learned at the end of August that instances of mold had been growing in several classrooms at the elementary school, Superintendent Robert Breidenstein told The Press.
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.
“As of yesterday, we have made tremendous progress,” Breidenstein said Tuesday. The building’s closure is expected to last until Friday when the cleaning process is expected to conclude.
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. The school’s more than 50 rooms had to be tested, with about a third containing above average amounts of mold.
“There were still 11 spaces that were offline, meaning they were cleaned, spritzed, sprayed and sanitized, and the contents of those rooms were removed from the classrooms,” Breidenstein said Tuesday. “The only obstacle that we’re still facing is waiting for updated testing from those rooms to make sure the mold has been completely remediated.”
Among those 11 spaces are the gymnasium and cafeteria, which means until those spaces are given the OK to reset and receive students, the school cannot safely bring all students back.
“If it was only one classroom, we would be able to manage and accommodate that, but with an entire wing, cafeteria and gym shut down, we’re just not in a position to safely receive kids in person,” Breidenstein added.
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.
During the past week, the 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.
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 for cleaning.
Staff had been 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.
“Once we get the all clear, we need a good 24-hour period to get those 11 spaces reset, so that’s why we’ll be delayed until Friday,” he said Tuesday. “We’re hoping to get the test results back today.”
For Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, Breidenstein said there would be full remote instruction for students who will interact with their teachers virtually.
Breidenstein said parents and guardians were notified Sept. 8 that Prospect will likely remain closed for about a week. Once a decision is made, he said another notice will go out to parents and the public on whether the building can be open for students Friday.
“If for some reason not all of the spaces are cleared, then we’ll make a decision as to what happens,” Breidenstein said. “I can safely say that all the staff want the kids in school as soon as possible, and the parents have been tremendously supportive and understanding. Hopefully, we’re turning the corner.”
Anyone with questions can contact Prospect’s principal or any district administrator by calling 945-2400 and following the prompts.