TILTON – Officials told a standing-room only crowd of Winnisquam Regional Middle School parents last night that one way or another, students will return to school on September 5 — more than a week after school was scheduled to begin. Students in the district's other four other schools begin classes today.
With the sixth grade wing closed for mold re-mediation, Superintendent Tammy Davis said the best-case scenario is that two of the three wings in the school should pass air quality tests by then and some children will be relocated to available classrooms in those wings.
Should only the eighth grade wing be available, Davis said some students will be taught in the common areas that passed the air quality tests as well as Southwick Elementary School in Northfield.
Davis estimated the re-mediation could cost the district up to $120,000. She said there is $80,000 in an emergency fund and the business administrator Cheryl Somma is culling the operating budget for additional money. Somma said the mold is not covered by insurance and to date, the board has approved $100,100.
On August 17, Dennis Francoeur of RPF Associates, Inc. — a mold remediation and air-quality testing company hired by the district — said testers found mold in the sixth- and seventh-grade wings while performing routine tests. He said the mold in the sixth-grade wing was visible.
He also said that "not all mold is created equal" and the type of mold as well as elevated spore counts were what triggered Davis to delay the opening of the building.
Last week, officials delayed the opening of the middle school until RPF determined the extent of the mold.
Francoeur said the seventh-grade wing should be cleaned and ready by September 5, however the sixth-grade wing has considerably more mold and will need more work. Davis said the area will be closed off while work is ongoing.
She said only one company has submitted a bid for the re-mediation and she expect additional bids to come to Tuesday.
In what seemed like science class for parents, Francoeur explained the types of mold discovered in the school, the frequency of occurrence for each type of mold discovered, and how mold grows. He attributed the problems in the most affected part of the Middle School to a very rainy and humid summer compounded by the fact that the two wings were built atop a what one parent described as "a swamp."
A routine test done at the school in December of 2011 revealed low spore counts, which is how a building is measured for air quality.
He said mold is naturally occurring and is fed by water and organic material, including the drywall used to construct the classrooms. He recommended the area along the walls that border the cement floor be reconstructed using a vinyl non-organic wall material, especially in the sixth-grade wing where the floor and carpet appear to be the wettest. He also said shutting down the air circulating system during the summer months could have contributed to mold growth.
Francoeur also said mold is ubiquitous and there are over 30 types of mold that grow in New Hampshire.
He said mold spores die in cold, dry air or when the relative humidity drops.
Remediation is done by using high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, cleaning, and negative ion generators.
Parents expressed a multitude of concerns last night, including a few who asked about alternative accommodations for their special education children and for children more prone to allergies than others to which Davis told them their cases will be handled individually and privately.
Others were concerned about the shortened school year.
Davis said she has been working with the State Department of Education about waiving a few of the 180 mandated school day but told parents that the middle school schedule is being reworked to compensate for at least three of them.
Moving forward, officials said the School Board is reviewing the district's long-range capital improvement plan.
According to Davis, the sixth- and seventh-grade wings of the middle school were built in the early 1980s. The eighth-grade wing was built as an addition in 2000.
Winnisquam Middle School is adjacent to the district's regional high school, located just off Rte. 3 in west Tilton. The high school was the site of last night's meeting.