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Poor ventilation, humidity blamed for mold in schools

By Marie Rohde

Poor ventilation systems combined with hot, muggy weather led to a spate of Wisconsin school closings due to mold, according to a school official.

Kromrey Middle School in Middleton was one of the first schools to discover a mold infestation Aug. 24. It will be closed for cleanup until Friday, said Michelle Larson, communications director for the Middleton-Cross Plains School District.

“It was a perfect storm of sorts,” Larson said. “We had record high humidity for two weeks and an outdated building from the 1960s.”

Mark Lentz, a Sheboygan Falls engineer who works with school districts, said poor ventilation systems can contribute to mold problems if they do not adequately control humidity.

“Schools are often problems because they try to cut their summer operating cost by shutting down the air conditioning and often leave it off during periods of maintenance when they are shampooing carpets and washing things down,” Lentz said.

The cleaning wasn’t the problem in Middleton, Larson said.

Only 20 percent of Kromrey has air conditioning and only half of the school’s rooms have windows that open, she said.

“It’s a metal building that is not well insulated,” Larson said. “The ventilation system, the boiler and the roof all need an overhaul.”

In April 2009, voters in the district defeated a $33 million referendum to build a new middle school. Poor ventilation was one of the driving forces behind the referendum.

The school district has hired Environmental Management Consulting Inc., Lake Mills, to do the cleanup. All of the cafeteria tables and any porous furniture have to be discarded, Larson said.

“We hope to have our new cafeteria tables by Friday,” she said.

District officials decided to close Kromrey when they learned the mold that invaded the school causes an allergic reaction in about 20 percent of the population, Larson said.

“For us that means 150 kids could have gotten sick from it,” Larson said. “It was on all the surfaces — the walls, the desks, the doors — we couldn’t take a chance on all those kids getting sick.”

A similar mold infestation at Oriole Lane Elementary in Mequon has perplexed school officials, said Demond Means, superintendent of the Mequon-Thiensville School District.

“We had crews in and think we can open the school on Tuesday or Wednesday,” Means said, “but we can’t find the source of the problem.”

The job, also handled by Environmental Management Consulting, will cost the district thousands of dollars because insurance doesn’t cover the remediation, he said.

Stone Bank Elementary School in Oconomowoc also was closed for four days because of mold. Arrowhead School District officials were unavailable for comment.

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