Mold, lead could delay Cheltenham school openings

Lead-based paint lingers on the original foundation of Myers Elementary School in Cheltenham. Workers found it when they removed drywall for an unrelated construction project.
Lead-based paint lingers on the original foundation of Myers Elementary School in Cheltenham. Workers found it when they removed drywall for an unrelated construction project. (Cheltenham Township School District)
Posted: August 09, 2013

The Cheltenham Township School District is dealing with mold in the middle school and lead paint in an elementary school that could delay the start of the academic year.

Summer maintenance crews discovered "a significant presence of mold" at Cedarbrook Middle School in July, Superintendent Natalie Thomas wrote to staff.

They placed vacuum systems and dehumidifiers in several classrooms and hallways to eradicate it, but the mold kept reappearing due to "excessive damp weather and humidity," according to district documents.

Around the same time, crews began repairing a water leak in the basement of Myers Elementary School. When workers tore back drywall, they found peeling paint on the original foundation. About a third of the paint tested positive for lead.

At a special meeting Tuesday night, the school board approved a $47,000 mold-removal contract with Langan Engineering & Environmental Service of Philadelphia, and a $35,300 lead-paint removal contract with Anthony Biddle Contractors of Ambler.

An independent environmental auditor will have to certify air-quality levels at both campuses before students and staff will be allowed to return, Thomas said.

The district believes Myers will be cleaned up in time for the first day of school on Sept. 3. But for Cedarbrook, it's too early to tell, and officials are exploring alternative starting dates or locations.

Cedarbrook faced a similar scenario in 2003, when the school year started a week late due to mold cleanup. Since then, the district has spent nearly $750,000 on mold control.

Schools are subject to strict air-quality standards for mold, which can cause allergies and trigger asthma attacks, and lead, which can cause brain damage, stunted growth and anemia, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The school board also hired an environmental engineer Tuesday to audit all district buildings, brought in consultants from Penn School of Medicine, and established an advisory committee to monitor conditions and make recommendations on school facilities.

Separately, the district has filed lawsuits against the companies it alleges are responsible for the water leak at Myers.


Contact Jessica Parks at jparks@philly.com, 610-313-8117, or follow on Twitter @ JS_Parks.

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