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No New Mold At Ringing; Problems Remain

POTTSTOWN PA – The heating, ventilation and air conditioning system installed during the Ringing Rocks Elementary School reconstruction only 3-1/2 years ago may have been of “insufficient size to relieve the humidity” within the building during the summer, a Pottsgrove School District official said Tuesday (Sept. 29, 2015), and if so could be the cause of mold growth discovered there during late July.

Pottsgrove Director of Facilities and Physical Plants Jeffrey Cardwell told members of the Board of School Directors the district is being advised to contact a third-party evaluator to further determine if HVAC inadequacies were behind the mold found embedded in, and later removed from, the underside of the gymnasium’s roof deck.

No more mold has been seen within the school, Cardwell noted, but he added that may be a factor of weather. Fall has arrived, outside temperatures are falling, humidity is lower, and as a result mold is unlikely to grow now, he said. The district nonetheless should have the system reviewed “before summer,” and know its potential remedies ahead of time, Cardwell recommended.

He asked the board to authorize looking for a mechanical engineer that specializes in auditing HVAC system capacities, configurations and humidity level management. Directors indicated they were inclined to agree.

For people sensitive to molds, exposure can cause symptoms such as nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing, or skin irritation, the federal Centers for Disease Control says. Those with serious mold allergies may have more severe reactions.

The district in August hired a contractor at a cost of about $19,000 to provide “all-inclusive” remediation work that involved sealing off the area to avoid contamination elsewhere, successfully removing existing mold and cleaning affected areas of the deck, and then painting them with an anti-microbial coating. If the HVAC system itself is inadequate, however, the similar problems might later surface elsewhere, Cardwell acknowledged.

Ringing Rocks re-opened in December 2011 after a lengthy expansion and renovation that cost about $17 million. Expenses were obviously on the mind of director Rick Rabinowitz, who promptly asked Cardwell if the HVAC contractor who worked on the Ringing project was still in business, and if he could be held liable for the mold problems.

“It’s still in business,” Cardwell replied, but he said nothing about potential liability.

Board members are somewhat sensitized to dealing with former contractors when school building problems are discovered.

Back in 2010, almost exactly 5 years after the day of Cardwell’s warning about Ringing’s HVAC, the district learned the outside retaining wall at Pottsgrove Middle School was seriously deteriorating due to what was later described as faulty construction of its water drainage system. The contractor responsible for that work could not be held financially responsible for the problem, Pottsgrove administrators claimed. Ultimately, the district paid $402,318 from its own funds to fix the wall.

Related (to the Pottsgrove Board of School Directors’ Sept. 29 meeting):

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