Kingsport school officials monitoring North mold situation

Rick Wagner • Feb 22, 2019 at 7:30 AM

KINGSPORT — Kingsport City Schools officials are watching the “black mold” developments at Sullivan North/Middle School closely, with an eye toward the day when the city system is to take over the building for which it already has paid $20 million.

The facility was opened as North High in 1980 but has been sold to the city as the new location for Sevier Middle School. KCS is to take possession of the building and spend about a year performing renovations before opening it as Sevier Middle in the fall of 2022. That is based on the current plan for the county to vacate North in the summer of 2021 in preparation for the projected opening of the county’s new West Ridge High, to include North zone students, in the fall of 2021.

“We are aware of the situation and have been monitoring what is taking place regarding Sullivan North,” Kingsport Superintendent Jeff Moorhouse said in an emailed statement. “We will continue to do so and connect with Sullivan County Schools in a way that will keep us informed and provide us necessary information and updates as they occur.”

Michael Upchurch, a former career technical education teacher at North High, on Tuesday afternoon through Kingsport attorney Kyle Vaughn filed a $21 million lawsuit in Sullivan County Circuit Court, seeking $3 million in compensatory damages and $18 million in punitive damages.

The more than 20-page lawsuit alleges Upchurch had various health aliments linked to exposure to toxic black mold at North during the 2017-18 academic year and this school year. He resigned earlier this month, he said, telling school officials he was not going to get sick from mold at the school again.

He said the school’s roof has leaded for years and that he had an elevated heart rate, coughing, a rash and other health issues caused by the toxins from black mold (Stachybotrys chartarum).

Recent tests at North High/Middle found microscopic traces of black mold, or nine spores among four rooms, but results from follow-up tests performed Monday and released to the school system Tuesday evening indicated no airborne black mold at the facility, where the high school and middle school are co-located.  Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski released a letter to parents on the results of retesting at the school.

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