December 19, 2007
has high mold spore level
by Meg Learson Grosso,
of the two portable classrooms behind King's Highway
Elementary School was closed last week, just one week
after it reopened, because it was found to have high
levels of mold spores. The other has a clean bill of
health and was reopened.
Gavin Anderson, chairman of the King's Highway School
Maintenance Committee, said the count was about 5,000 mold
spore equivalents per cubic meter in the now-closed
portable classroom, compared to about 1,700 in the other
The "likely" reason for the higher level of mold is the
teaching materials, such as sheet music that the music
teacher, Sarah Guterman, was unpacking the day the tests
were taken, according to Gil Cormier, an air quality
expert with Occupational Risk Control Services in New
Britain. He was reached by phone on Tuesday night.
There has been much speculation among parents and even
committee members about who knew what, and when. The
following timeline was provided by Anderson and verified
by Cormier and others.
On Monday, Nov. 26, at a meeting of the King's Highway
Elementary School Maintenance Committee, it was revealed
that children were having classes in the portable
classrooms. Some committee members asked who had approved
the opening of the portable classrooms. According to a
number of parents present, as well as Joe Strickland, an
architect, member of the committee and also chairman of
the Public Site and Building Committee, he asked the
question and he remembers that Nancy Harris, Assistant
Supt. for Business, said, "Gil did," meaning Gil Cormier
approved the opening.
However, Cormier did not even know that children were in
the portable classrooms. According to Cormier, on Monday
night, Bill Pecoriello, a parent and member of the King's
Highway Maintenance Committee, called Cormier to say that
children were now in the portable and he asked Cormier if
he could test the rooms, as the school system had
previously agreed that Cormier would do.
On Tuesday, Cormier tested the portables in the afternoon
and when he got back, there was an email from Anderson,
sent earlier in the day, which also asked Cormier to test.
By Wednesday or Thursday, when children were in those
classrooms (as they were on Friday and Monday), Cormier
asked Harris if she wanted the laboratory results the fast
or slow way. She gave the go-ahead for the more expensive,
but quicker results.
Cormier said he got those results late Friday afternoon,
Nov. 30. He put the results together in a table. Looking
at them, he told himself, "the results look odd and it
didn't make sense to me." The north portable had shown
much worse test results prior to extensive renovations,
and now the southern classroom had much worse results.
Cormier told himself that possible culprits for a high
mold spore level could be the ceiling tiles, or the small
amount of insulation that was left in the air handling
system. (He had originally pushed for removing all the
insulation, but finally settled for allowing ten percent
to be left in.) However, the ceiling tiles and insulation
were the same in both classrooms, yet there was an
elevated level of mold in only one classroom.
Cormier remembered that the music teacher, Sarah Guterman,
was unpacking materials in the southern portable, the one
with the higher mold count, on the day that he did the
He also remembered that the music teacher had once taught
in the pod that was torn down this past summer because it
was riddled with mold. He seemed to remember that her next
classroom also had problems. While she has not been in the
pod for at least a few years, Cormier said that mold can
exist that long.
Over the weekend, Cormier left for a long-planned
vacation, but on Monday, Dec. 3, he called Harris from
Hawaii to tell her that no children should be allowed in
the classroom and he sent her an email on Tuesday.
He added that the information should be shared with
parents and staff, and that the schools should further
"assess" the problem to determine the cause. He advised
the administrators to have the rooms tested again, after
further remediation was done.
According to Marge Cion, chair of the Board of Education,
the rooms have been retested.
The assessment should particularly include the teaching
materials, Cormier said. An expert should assess these to
determine whether they can be cleaned and saved, or should
be thrown out. Cormier said the problem with cleaning
porous materials, such as paper, is that the only way to
know if the materials are safe afterwards is to test again
and that is expensive. "Usually, we recommend that things
be thrown out," he said.
Cormier also said that the rooms should be examined to see
that all the renovations that were recommended were
The ceiling tiles were removed and replaced on Saturday,
Dec. 1, as Schools Supt. Dr. Elliott Landon announced at a
Board of Education meeting on Dec. 3.
Cormier had noticed the day he was testing, Nov. 27, that
the ceiling tiles weren't replaced as he had expected they
would be during the extensive renovations to the portable
classrooms. It seems the fault lay in the recommendations
of the Technical Committtee, a sub-committee of the
Kings's Highway School Maintenance Committee. That group
had inadvertently left replacement of ceiling tiles off
the list of repairs that it gave the school system,
according to Gavin Anderson, chair of that group.
Parent Amanda Gebicki took issue with the way that the
news was reported to parents at Kings Highway School,
saying that an email was sent from Anderson to parents
entitled "Environmental Update from Special Maintenance
She noted that the email merely said that on Nov. 27, air
samples showed "elevated readings" for the southern of the
two modulars. She took issue with the fact that mold was
not mentioned, nor the extent of the mold.
She said that when Staples High School was found to have
mold, earlier in the year, Dr. Landon emailed the parents
and informed them that mold was present and said that
steps were being taken to remediate it. "I don't know why
the parents at King's Highway are not afforded the same
candor," said Gebicki.
The parent said she emailed Anderson and "I questioned
whether it was a full and accurate disclosure."
Reached by phone on Tuesday evening, Anderson said that he
phrased the email the way he did because, "I didn't want
to frighten anybody."
Gebicki said of the administration's opening the portables
without the approval of Cormier: "My big problem is that
they gambled. They knew that a critical step had not been
taken in remediation (replacement of ceiling tiles), and
they knew that Gil had not issued an approval for
re-occupancy. They gambled with the health of the
Gebicki noted that two years ago, a report done by a
company called AMC Technology in September of 2006 said
that porous materials must be decontaminated or disposed
of. "They got the report, but did not go back and
decontaminate them," she said.
Parent Lauren Tarshis said that the reopening of the
portables without an expert's inspection is "another
example of why, even with an expert on hand, the
administration did not follow the protocols."
Anderson noted in his email that "It is worth noting that
the school maintenance division have responded quickly and
efficiently to countless repair and remediation needs at
the school throughout the last three months, and a great
deal of positive work has been completed."
He also noted that during the three days that the
classroom was open "individual student exposure to
whatever levels of airborne contaminants" was likely to be
minimal, since students were not there for the entire day
or for extended periods."
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