I put out this special email blast to inform you about some environmental issues that we have been dealing with. We will be preparing a letter home, translated, in the coming days, but that is a bit slow, and by blasting out the information via this means, and posting on our website, we can stay ahead of the curve on disseminating information.
Last Thursday we had a complaint of a musty smell in Room 2 in Park Ave Elementary. This is the 5th grade wing that is closest to Park Ave. We did not see any obvious sources of the musty smell, and not everyone even smelled an odor. But out of an abundance of caution, we moved the class in question to the Music Room and scheduled in specialized environmental testing. Because of the excessive rain and humidity in New Jersey this year, the testing firm was already booked up and we were not able to have them in to do tests until yesterday.
We made the decision not only to do air samples in Room 2, but to test all of the classrooms in the wing. In addition, staff had identified some spots on the ventilation ducts in the Special Services Office (also in the 5th grade wing), and on the duct work in the Park Ave Elementary Tech Lab. As our consultant moved through the rooms taking air samples, he was also conducting an expert visual inspection. He took samples of the material on duct vents that had suspected mold spores in the Special Services Office and the Park Ave Tech Lab which have their own self-contained HVAC units. As a result, yesterday we moved all of the staff out of the Special Services Office, and all staff and the small group of students out of the Park Ave Tech Lab. The air samples and two spot samples were taken yesterday and results should be available to us late this afternoon.
For the two spot samples, if they prove to be surface mold, then we will immediately bring in a certified cleaning company and remediate those two rooms. As I said, the rooms have already been closed off. The air samples for mold spores in the other classrooms will not give a similar definitive reading. In the air sampling, the consultant also took an air sample outside the building. Because of the wet weather, there is already airborne mold in the air outside the school (and all over New Jersey). The purpose of the air testing in the classrooms is to see if there is a significant difference between the outside reading and the readings in the classrooms.
Two other issues came forward as a result of our consultant’s visit yesterday. Heating and cooling in the Park Ave Elementary 5th grade wing is through unit ventilators, one for each room. Our consultant recommended that all of the unit ventilators be cleaned. While we can do this ourselves with our janitorial staff, should the small spots in the ventilation ducts in the Special Services Office and Park Ave Elementary Tech Lab be confirmed as some type of surface mold, then when we bring in specialists to clean those units, we will also have them clean all the unit ventilators in the 5th grade wing as well. You should know that the heating and air conditioning in the rest of the Park Ave Complex is a different system than the unit ventilator system in the 5th grade wing. The HVAC systems in the rest of the school were upgraded this summer as part of the renovations.
The only work the 5th grade wing had as part of the current renovation is connection to an automated temperature control system. One other issue came to light as our consultant walked through the 5th grade wing yesterday. He identified several classrooms that had higher than normal carbon dioxide levels (what humans give off when breathing). While the levels were not unsafe, he did make a recommendation that we increase the air flow to those rooms when all the windows are closed. In evaluating that issue with the district’s HVAC contractor, they recommended that the dampers in those units be opened further. The contractors is currently on site and will make the adjustments to those dampers later today. This carbon dioxide test is simple enough to do, so we will be spot checking other areas in our district to ensure there are no other areas with a similar circumstance.
Lastly, I want to mention an associated environmental concern at Joseph Catena Elementary School in Freehold Township. We rent two Pre-Kindergarten classrooms in that building. Freehold Township has recently determined that one of their gyms at Catena has a poured rubber floor that used mercury as the bonding agent when the floor was laid years ago. Problems have been detected in gym floors like these where mercury vapors have been detected. This is the case at Catena. Their gym floor has been measured to be giving off higher levels of mercury gas than is acceptable. They have closed the gym and are working through the issue. Our Pre-Kindergarten students have not been in this gym this year, and even in past years our students only occasionally went into the gym when there was a special program. In fact, our two Pre-Kindergarten classes are on the other side of the building away from the gym in question.
We will continue to work our issues here at Park Ave Elementary, driven by the test results and what is deemed appropriate to the situation. We will be open in communicating what we are doing if a remediation is needed. If the suspected mold in the special services office and PAE tech lab is confirmed, they will be professionally remediated and retested prior to re-occupancy. The safety of our students and staff will remain paramount.
I am going out with this blast today and will also post it up on our website. When results are in we will be preparing a more thorough letter home, translated in Spanish. That letter will be a bit slower and may say not much more than what I cover here.