Manchester Middle School students will attend classes on a split-session schedule at the high school while an environmental firm remediates a mold problem at the middle school.
A mostly-filled auditorium at greeted the administration of the Manchester Township School District at 10 a.m. Monday morning, as parents, staff and community members were in attendance to learn about next steps after the in .
Mold Issue at MTMS
The situation began when mold was observed by middle school staff members on the first floor of the building earlier this month, and those staff quickly alerted district officials. The district, in turn, notified two local companies to visit the school and perform a consultation — T.T.I. Environmental Services and Servpro.
The observations of the specialist companies showed that the problem was apparent in more than one area on the first floor of the building.
“Mold was found in several spots on the first floor of the middle school. However, the second floor was able to be isolated through the use of barriers and de-humidifiers, and the mold was prevented from growing on the second floor also,” said Superintendent David Trethaway.
The superintendent said that results were able to be returned quickly after T.T.I. and Servpro did their initial observations and testing two weekends ago, which consisted of a visual inspection by technicians, followed by air quality testing in every classroom, hallway and area in the school building.
Though mold was prevented from growing on the second floor of the middle school, it will still need “intensive cleaning”, according to Trethaway, along with specialized vacuuming and replacement of ceiling tiles, cleaning of the HVAC systems and steam-cleaning all the carpeting.
The work to be done on the first floor is slightly more involved.
“There will be a lot of gutting on the first floor. All the carpeting will be ripped out and replaced with tile,” said Trethaway, who added that a tile surface would also serve as a preventive measure against mold growth in the future, as opposed to carpeting. The floor surface in the gymnasium would also be converted to tile as well, from the prior carpeted surface it had maintained for years.
All ceiling tiles and corkboard strips on the classroom walls will also be removed, as well as chalkboards and cabinets, if deemed necessary.
“If in doubt, it will be thrown out,” said the superintendent.
Timothy Popp of T.T.I. Environmental Services and Michael Reilly from Servpro were also on hand to provide their insight into the mold removal process.
“The first floor will be totally gutted from ceiling to floor,” said Popp. “All services will treated with a HEPA vacuum (a specialized type of vacuum which collects substances even as small as mold particles), wiped down with a detergent solution, and HEPA vacuumed once again.”
As to the causes for the mold’s appearance, Popp couldn’t limit it to any one thing, but noted that a combination of factors such as the age of the carpets, humidity and building conditions could all have played a role.
“Mold can be difficult to see visually, but it was found in cracks and crevices. We don’t know exactly how long it’s been there,” said Popp, in response to an audience question on the subject.
“We don’t just remediate or kill the mold, we remove it,” Reilly described. “Is the process safe? Yes. We use glass cleaner instead of chemical disinfectants, so it does not pose a risk.”
Popp said that a room-by-room visual inspection and air sampling test will be done to deem the rooms complete and habitable at the conclusion of the mold removal process.
Proposed Educational Transition, Cost
Middle school Principal Nancy Driber and Vice Principal Steve Ninivaggi said the solution to the work at the middle school is a split-session schedule, to take place at Manchester Township High School. The high school students would attend classes for the first part of the school day, while the middle school students would attend classes for the second half of the day, from roughly noon to 5 p.m. The announcement brought surprise and protest from parents throughout the auditorium.
Driber stated that the reason that time span was decided upon was that it would allow the middle school students to retain their identical class assignments and teachers. Here is the proposed class schedule under the transition arrangement, as proposed by district administrators:
5 [6th Grade Lunch]
6 [7th Grade Lunch]
7 [8th Grade Lunch]
The schedule consists of nine, 30-minute periods — though with block scheduling, both Mathematics and Language Arts periods will span for a total of one hour.
Both Driber and Ninivaggi explained that middle school students will not receive lockers in the high school building (as they’re already in use) and not change for gym class in the high school locker rooms. Additionally, students in each grade level will have their classes in different wings of the building, to keep the students within their own peer groups as much as possible.
Kevin Burger, head of Student & Staff Services, said that he received many questions from working parents as to the choice of before-school child care under this new schedule. He said that several options are being looked at, including at the Y-Building in Toms River, on Whitty Road.
Though the cost of care and responsibility of transportation to the Y in the mornings would fall on parents, Burger said that the district would transport children from the Y to the high school at 11:45 a.m. for their school day, if such an arrangement were reached.
Business Administrator Craig Lorentzen stated that there were no specifics on the cost of the mold removal process yet, as the full scope and length of the project is not yet known.
“There are still a lot of questions unanswered,” he said.
Lorentzen said that the district’s standard insurance carrier only insured for up to $25,000 for mold issues, but that a second, environmental-based policy possessed by the district would cover them for up to $1 million in a situation such as the one it faces.
“If we are unable to pay through insurance, we’ll look at other revenue sources (to obtain the money from), and we’re currently doing that now,” said Lorentzen.
The administrator said that this incident has occurred early in the fiscal year, so not very much money has been spent as of yet — leaving possible funds there to be allocated towards the mold removal cost, if need be.
“Ideally, we’re hoping that it will all be covered through insurance. We don’t know the cost yet, but as more information is available, we’ll get it out to you,” said Lorentzen.
A long question and answer forum followed the presentations, where residents were able to inquire to school and district personnel about their transition plans during the mold removal process.
One asked if the students will retain the same type of abbreviated class schedule after the middle school re-opens — as it turned out, they will revert back to their original school schedule.
Another inquired as to how extracurricular activities would be affected with the shortened school periods that are being proposed.
One parent said that a similar mold outbreak occurred in the past at an elementary school in Barnegat, and the district there was able to coordinate schedules and work together for the good of the children’s education. He said that he was sure Manchester would do just the same.
Yet, some residents expressed apprehension and a lack of enthusiasm regarding the district’s decisions.
“I don’t feel good about it at all,” said Manchester resident Rich Roberts. “I drive to other school districts, and see that they’ve used trailers (as a location for alternate education). I don’t see why they didn’t look into that.”
John Morris of Manchester, who works with heating and air conditioning systems, said that mold is not an uncommon occurrence and that the district is doing what it can to take care of the problem.
“It looks like both parents and students will be inconvenienced, but it’s what has to be done,” he said. Still, Morris felt that the district “sidestepped” some of the issues related to the upcoming transition.
“We are asking everyone to make sacrifices, but we will all find a way to get it done,” Trethaway said.
District officials stated several times throughout the meeting that further information will be distributed to parents through the Manchester Township Schools website and on TV-21, as it becomes available.
The district will hold two meetings Tuesday, at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., for high school parents at the high school auditorium.