Millbrook students ‘home’ after months-long mold cleanup, repairs

Millbrook students ‘home’ after months-long mold cleanup, repairs

Source: https://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com, January 9, 2018
By: Nina Schutzman

A Millbrook district elementary school is open again, nearly four months after shutting down for mold remediation and renovations.

And for Elm Drive Elementary’s 160-plus students, the re-opening of their building brought a fresh start and a homecoming.

Elm Drive had been closed since September. While remediation and repairs were ongoing, Elm Drive’s K-2 students were relocated to Millbrook Middle School.

Now the kids are “back where they belong,” said Millbrook Central School District Superintendent Philip D’Angelo.

And the school they returned to is in better shape than the one they left behind, officials say.

“It’s been a difficult start of the school year,” D’Angelo told the Poughkeepsie Journal. “You try to find an opportunity out of a tough situation. This building is 59-years-old, but (now) it’s almost like new.”

The district’s insurance company, New York Schools Insurance Reciprocal, is projected to pay more than $2 million for work completed inside of the school, said Brian Fried, Millbrook’s assistant superintendent for business, finance and operations.

The calculation includes $1.09 million for mold remediation and testing, along with $802,000 for renovations — new ceiling tiles, sinks, painting, some flooring — and $156,000 for furniture replacement, such as new storage.

Outside of the school, the district will foot the $98,000 bill to waterproof the building foundation, repair drains, modify grading and add sump pumps.

“I think it’s safest to say that the mold was caused by water infiltration in the building’s utility tunnels,” Fried said. September was the first time Millbrook became “aware of issues.”

Profex Inc. started work in December on the site improvements and foundation repairs, hoping to prevent further water infiltration. That project is expected to be finished by the end of January.

As kids everywhere returned to Elm Drive after the holiday break on Jan. 2, D’Angelo went from classroom to classroom.

Welcome home, he told the students and staff. It feels like you never left.

The closure

Students had just returned to school in September when Millbrook discovered mold in Alden Place Elementary School. After remediation, Alden’s third- through fifth-grade students were able to return to their school within a few days.

Elm Drive was a different story. About a week after school began, D’Angelo announced the building would be closed while remediation was underway.

“We were stunned when it first happened,” said Amy Woods, a Millbrook mom. But an “in-depth information session” helped parents make sense of the problem.

“We learned that it did happen very quickly,” Woods said. “There was no mold one day, the next day they (teachers) came and everything was covered in white mold spores. It was on every surface, especially where little fingers touch. All the desks, pencils, keyboards … were covered in it. That’s why it was such a drastic thing and they had to move them out of there.”

Several school districts in Dutchess County had mold issues after a wet and humid summer. Millbrook, it seems, was the only district to temporarily close a school.

There are no national or state standards for “safe” levels of mold: Spores are a natural part of the environment and are always in the air and on surfaces. But exposure may be harmful to some, such as those with weakened immune systems, asthma or mold allergies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

After visible inspections revealed mold growth in Elm Drive, air sampling was conducted throughout the building, in hallways and classrooms, according to environmental reports. In various areas, tests showed elevated levels of mold groups such as basidiospores and Penicillium/Aspergillus.

When parents first learned of the mold growth, the “big question (was)… ‘why didn’t the janitors see this?'” Woods said. But once they found out “it happened so quickly, we thought, ‘it’s not like this had been living in the classroom all this time.’ The district communicated very well.”

Elm Drive students were out of school for three days after the initial mold discovery, before they were relocated to the middle school.

Relocation

Woods’ son Spencer, an Elm Drive second-grader, was excited to report to the middle school, where his older brother, Cameron, is in sixth grade.

But it turns out they didn’t see much of each other, their mom said.

Elm Drive students were clustered into classrooms in one section of the middle school. The younger and older students didn’t attend lunch or gym together, and teachers and aides led the little ones, who were used to having in-classroom bathrooms, to the restrooms.

“The middle school was great,” Woods said.

But she was happy when Spencer and his classmates were able to return to Elm Drive, to their own playground and regular lunchtime.

At the middle school, Spencer and his friends ate lunch around 1 p.m., versus the late morning meal he had in the elementary school — the “one negative side” of the temporary move, Woods said. Parents sent their kids in with snacks.

Recess was spent indoors if the weather was poor. In nice weather, teachers and the children walked to nearby Alden Place’s elementary playground.

What’s new

Millbrook held an open house at Elm Drive on Jan. 3, the day after the building re-opened.

Parents and children roamed the halls, ducking into classes to check out updates. School officials and employees from Belfor Property Restoration, the company that handled Elm Drive’s remediation and renovations, were on hand to answer questions.

Johnny and Carly McKee led their mom, Angela, from room to room. They wanted her to see it all.

“They’re excited,” Angela McKee said.

First stop was Johnny’s kindergarten classroom, decorated with penguins.

“We all get our own cubbies,” Johnny said. “And you can put your coat up here.”

Across the hall, Carly led the way the way around her first-grade room, pointing out her desk and cubby.

The kids aren’t the only ones excited about the new cubbies, which are portable.

The storage units are set up “in blocks of four,” said D’Angelo, the superintendent. “In the summer, everything can pull away from the wall, so you can get air circulation.”

But many of the changes are things children are not likely to notice.

Ceiling tiles were replaced throughout the building. The library, music room and another classroom got new flooring. New sinks have Corian counters, which are designed to resist mold, mildew and bacteria growth when properly cared for. The books in the library were scrubbed clean.

New furniture such as the storage units and sinks are “elevated and everything can pull out from the walls,” D’Angelo said. Pointing to the sink, he added, “if there’s ever a leak down here, we’re going to catch it right away.”

And when students returned, they had a “nice little gift” waiting for them on their desks, D’Angelo said: Small teddy bears, each wearing a “Belfor” t-shirt, courtesy of the company.

“My teacher said I could bring him home,” said Carly, clutching her new bear. “Its name is Snowflake.”

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