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Engineers Hunt For Cause Of Ringing’s Mold

POTTSTOWN PA – Computers hook to sensors. The sensors are in valves, ducts, and pipes. They all connect, eventually, to huge rooftop air handling units. And Jeffrey Cardwell, the Pottsgrove School District director of facilities and physical plants, believes within that maze of environmental hardware lies the answer to mold growth at Ringing Rocks Elementary School.

Problem is, no one so far can figure out just quite where.

“It’s a sophisticated and complicated system,” Cardwell explained Tuesday (Dec. 1, 2015) to the district Board of School Directors, “and it’s got many intricate parts. We need to examine them and find a balance in there.”

The board agreed to Cardwell’s plan to hire D’Huy Engineering, the firm currently overseeing the reconstruction of nearby Pottsgrove High School, to examine the system at a maximum cost of $13,500. D’Huy has a mechanical engineer group that can perform the work, he said.

The heating, ventilation and air conditioning system’s lack of balance, Cardwell said earlier, has caused warm, moist air to collect beneath the gymnasium roof line of the building that was rebuilt and expanded 3-1/2 years ago at a cost of about $17 million. Mold was discovered flourishing in that space during July, and a contractor remediated the problem in September at a price of about $19,000.

No new mold has been found in the school since the contractor finished, but Cardwell admits that may be more a factor of cooler exterior temperatures than anything else. Neither he or others he’s talked with have determined why conditions perfect for mold growth occurred in the first place, and he wants to find the answer before warmer weather returns.

Directors were skeptical about Cardwell’s plan. Using D’Huy to determine the problem and how it might be fixed is only the first of three steps. The other two consist of getting third-party estimates for whatever fixes are needed, and completing the job. Some board members advocated hiring specialists for the purpose, and did not value a D’Huy opinion.

Director John Rossi disagreed. An outsider would certainly be willing to come in and do the research, he said, but probably at a higher cost. That outsider’s contract also likely would specify that it, and not a different contractor, must be retained to do the follow-up. D’Huy, on the other hand, is on site already and doesn’t need to compete for Pottsgrove’s business, Rossi contended.

“It’s a fair price, a fair response from D’Huy, and they can perform the operation properly,” Rossi added.

Before it gave an approval, however, district Superintendent Shellie Feola called a halt to the discussion and asked for “a 5-minute executive session to discuss potential litigation.”

Exactly what litigation wasn’t specified. Several board members, however, including just elected President Rick Rabinowitz, have previously claimed in public meetings that contractor who installed Ringing Rocks’ air handling equipment, and not the district, should be held liable for reimbursement of any mold-related costs.

D’Huy’s report on the state of the Ringing Rocks HVAC system could be ready within weeks, Cardwell said.

Related (to the Pottsgrove Board of School Directors’ Dec. 1 meeting):

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