Testing for mold in KC schools ramped up, goal is to reopen Tuesday

MILL HALL — With all Keystone Central schools closed until further notice due to mold problems, many people are questioning how the school district handled the situation.

On Aug. 28, Keystone Central School District alerted parents and students that property services staff found mold in a closed staff bathroom at Liberty-Curtin Elementary School in Blanchard. In a letter, Superintendent Dr. Alan Lonoconus said, “We have addressed the situation through the established procedures and protocol.”

Yesterday, addressing the press in a meeting with Business Manager Susan Blesh and District Communications Director Angela Harding, Lonoconus said the small amounts of mold at both Liberty-Curtin and Robb elementary schools prompted the district to pursue air quality testing for all district buildings.

Air quality testing before the start of school is not routine nor required. According to Lonoconus, it costs “a couple thousand dollars” for the district.

Some comments on the KCSD Facebook page claim the district made it appear as though things were fine on Aug. 28 and left people reeling at the Sept. 4 announcement that both Woodward Elementary and Central Mountain Middle School had failed an air quality test.

Administrators were still waiting for the results of the test when they sent out the Aug. 28 letter.

Lonoconus said the amount of spores found in the air samples taken from Woodward and CMMS “was just barely over the (acceptable) level” of 750 spores.

“It’s an environmental thing,” he said, attributing the problem to the hot, muggy weather that plagued the area these last few weeks.

Most KCSD buildings are several decades old, therefore “they don’t have the ventilation” to prevent mold from growing during humid spells.

Woodward is one of the few schools that has air conditioning. Lonoconus and Blesh said the district does not run air conditioning in any of the buildings over the summer.

Only the library, cafeteria and some offices have air conditioning at CMMS. Blesh estimated putting air conditioning in the middle school would cost around $700,000, which is not a realistic expense for the district at this time.

However, due to high temperatures and higher than average rainfall this summer, “we were anticipating something,” Lonoconus said. School districts in Jersey Shore, Williamsport and State College all had to delay the start of their school years due to mold problems caused by humid weather.

Lonoconus said property services staff bought more de-humidifiers that were placed around the district in July, before any signs of mold appeared. He also said they regularly shampooed the carpets, opened windows and doors to circulate air, and monitored for signs of mold growth over the summer and into the beginning of the school year.

“If someone suspects or sees it, they’re supposed to report it,” he said.

Even though maintenance and custodial staff were very proactive, Lonoconus said, “the conditions are just right” for mold to grow.

In the case of Woodward and CMMS, there are no visible signs of mold like there were at Liberty-Curtin and Robb.

“It came down to taking a look at what we were visibly seeing,” said Lonoconus.

Once the district established mold was present in two schools, it took the steps to have air quality testing done in all schools, because that is the recommended safety protocol.

Lonoconus said the district might require more pre-emptive testing if the area continues to have wetness and high humidity for the next couple of months.