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Mold Cleanup Continues as UP High School Reopens
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer

            Last week, Ray Felix, of Belfor Property Restoration, explained to the Upper Perkiomen School Board that unseasonably warm and humid weather, combined with an aging HVAC system, created the conditions for the formation of mold in the school.

            During the Sept. 13 public meeting, he and Harry Neil, a vice president with 1Source, appeared before the members to detail their cleanup process.

            Before the start of school, as crews from Belfor cleaned up the remnants of the recent fire at Upper Perkiomen High School, they discovered mold in the bottom of the 200 wing. As they continued to search, more was observed, according to Felix.

            "We wondered why is this happening?" said Felix, based in the greater Philadelphia area.

            Districts throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland are dealing with similar issues, according to Felix. He told the board Upper Perkiomen is the seventh district in the last five weeks his company has worked with to eliminate mold.

            "Your school is one of many going through this," Felix said.

            During the meeting, Felix told the members that a visual cleaning and air sampling of the impacted classrooms on the first floor has been cleared. He added that work on the second floor and the gymnasium would continue through the weekend.

            The school reopened on Monday, with a two-hour delay, following a one week closure for mold removal.  

            Students are being encouraged to dress appropriately while the HVAC system is turned off until the work is concluded, according to an email message from Dr. Alexis McGloin, Upper Perkiomen's superintendent, to the school community.

            According to Felix, Belfor has multiple dehumidifiers in place and will make sure the school's HVAC system is working correctly.

            "We will stay with you through the process," he said.

            Last week, crews cleaned every classroom in the impacted wing whether mold was discovered or not, according to Neil. Felix told the members each room was swept with a HEPA vacuum, wiped down and swept again. Neil said crews from his company acted as a third-party inspector, and that based on the post-cleanup air samples there is less mold inside the building than outside.

            On Tuesday afternoon, district officials closed the auditorium due to increased humidity levels. "The HVAC units that service that part of the building have been checked for all of the concerns that led to our larger moisture problem," according to an email message from McGloin. She stated that the filters and cooling coils are clean and free of debris.

            "We are going to err on the side of caution and close off the auditorium until the humidity problem can be addressed," the superintendent wrote in the message. "In addition, we will have BELFOR and 1Source examine the area. Please know that we are taking every step possible to be certain that the building remains safe for our students and staff. We will continue to take steps, with the assistance of BELFOR, to keep the humidity down in the building until this weather breaks."

            Wm. Henderson Plumbing, Heating & Cooling Inc. is currently investigating the source of the rising humidity in this area, according to McGloin.

            "As you can imagine, combating humidity is a challenging battle that we continue to wage, especially as humidity outside remains quite high," she wrote. "Keeping humidity and the moisture level throughout the building down is vital to ensuring the mold problem doesn't recur."

            According to Felix, several factors led to the mold infestation, including the condition of the coils utilized in the HVAC system as well as heat waves that last several months instead of several weeks. He recommended that the district develop a three to five year plan to bring that infrastructure up to date in order to better contend with the new conditions.

            Board President Kerry Drake described the episode as an unfortunate occurrence. Drake suggested that the Facilities Committee develop a series of recommendations to prevent future outbreaks at the high school or other buildings in the district.

            John Sheeran, the district's director of facilities and operations, told Drake that he and the head custodian at each school conducted a visual search and a "white-glove inspection and found nothing."





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