By Keith Eddings
---- — LAWRENCE — State health inspectors will return to the Guilmette School next week after teachers expressed fears that the mold infestation uncovered two years ago survived a $3.5 million cleanup, the president of the teachers union said yesterday.
“There are teachers who said they do have concerns, that they have trouble breathing in their classrooms,” union president Frank McLaughlin said after he and about 40 of Guilmette’s teachers and staff met with school Superintendent Jeff Riley to discuss the issue. “They say they crack their windows every day.”
Anne Roach, a spokesperson for the state Department of Health, responded to a phone call seeing details about the upcoming inspection with an e-mail saying only that she had no update. McLaughlin said she told him the inspection will occur May 21.
The renewed fear that mold has returned to Guilmette came as a first-grade classroom remains shut after a hygienist found high levels of the spores inside. Riley hired the hygienist after a teacher complained of “health problems (that) appear to worsen while at work,” he said in a letter he sent to the parents of Guilmette’s 1,150 elementary and middle school students on Friday.
The hygienist, Environmental Sampling and Testing Services of Ashburnham, Mass., on Thursday reported finding “significant concentrations (of mold) higher than industry standards and environmental agency thresholds.” The company counted 23,800 spores Aspergillus/Penicillium per cubic meter, well into the range where a cleanup is recommended.
At the same time, the hygienist provided reassurance that the discovery of more mold was an isolated incident likely due to a science project gone awry and was not connected to the widespread infestation two years ago.
A cleanup costing up to $10,000, which included wiping down all the surfaces in the classroom and sanitizing the ventilation system that serves it, was completed over the weekend. Riley said he is hopeful a new round of air-quality tests will be done in time to allow the 21 students who were displaced to five other classrooms to return this week.
“The parents know we’re going to do everything necessary to keep their kids safe,” Riley said. “I’ve yet to meet a parent who feels this is a widespread problem, but we take this issue seriously and we’ll be overly cautious in our approach.”
Picking up her sixth-grade grandson and second-grade granddaughter from the school yesterday, Zoraida Lebron said she was not fully reassured.
“I thought they fixed that,” she said about the earlier mold infestation.
“She’s asthmatic,” Lebron said, indicating her granddaughter. “If there’s mold, they’re gong to have to take care of that. That can be life-threatening to a person who’s asthmatic.”
McLaughlin, the teachers union president, said Riley has not gone far enough in responding to concerns that mold has returned to Guilmette.
“There’s a pregnant teacher in there,” he said about a classroom adjoining classroom 105 at the school, where the new mold outbreak was discovered. “Her doctor said that until this problem is resolved, (she) shouldn’t be going to school. She’s afraid. They’re all afraid. But they left the kids in there.”
Last week, McLaughlin released a letter a Guilmette employee sent to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration saying staff are suffering from “chronic, recurring symptoms such as coughing, bronchitis, sinus infections, asthma symptoms, swollen glands and unexplained tiredness and burning under the eyelids.” OSHA redacted the writer’s name and forwarded the letter to the state Department of Health.
Statistics provided by a school spokesman show student attendance at Guilmette nudged up through April of this year compared to the same period last year, while staff attendance dropped slightly.
Visits to the nurse also are down, from 8,004 at about this point last year to 7,810 this year, said the spokesman Chris Markuns.
Meanwhile, the Lawrence City Council is scheduled to meet tonight to consider Mayor William Lantigua’s request to borrow $1 million more to finish the cleanup and reconstruction at Guilmette from the 2010-11 mold infestation, which would come on top of the $2.5 million that the council approved borrowing last month and the $3.5 million appropriated last year by the city and school system. The added $1 million is needed because the sole bid for the last round of work came in $900,000 higher than the $2.5 million that the council budgeted.
The mold infestation shut Guilmette from October 2010 to April 2011, when students were moved to other buildings throughout the city while the infestation was eradicated and much of the interior was rebuilt after the demolition that occurred to get at the mold.
The infestation has been traced to the faulty insulation of the school’s air conditioning pipes, which exposed them to summer heat and allowed for water to condense. The air conditioning system has not been turned on in two years and won’t be anytime soon, which means Guilmette’s summer school students will be moved to the Bruce School in June, for the third year in a row.