KINGSPORT — Mold growth has been identified at Sullivan North High School, forcing school officials to take immediate action in its removal.
“We received some information this morning concerning the presence of mold at North High School,” Director of Schools Glenn Arwood said during a press conference Wednesday. “We do not yet know the extent of it, but it was our decision as a Board of Education and as an administration to be very proactive in getting information out to the public.”
Arwood said mold was found in an area of the school that had been flooded earlier this summer after a failure in the gutter system. The room is in an area of the building not currently occupied by students and is served by a separate heating and air-conditioning unit from the rest of the building.
After the flood, Arwood said a company called InStar Services Group had been called in to work on the area. This particular classroom had previously housed culinary arts classes but was being reconfigured for computer and classroom use.
Sullivan County Schools Maintenance Supervisor Joe Mike Akard said he discovered the mold late Tuesday after a walk-through in the area. Akard said the mold was contained in a classroom of approximately 200 square feet. The mold appears in spots on approximately 40 to 45 feet of baseboards, which cover three walls.
Samples of the mold have been sent out for analysis, Akard said. Results are expected today.
Wingfield Environmental will be working on a mitigation plan, which is expected to be completed within 24 hours. After the plan is in place, removal is expected to take a few days.
“We always try to be proactive, and the safety of the children, the students and the staff is our main concern,” Akard said Wednesday. “We will have our samples by noon tomorrow. ... Regardless of what type of mold it is, we are going to go ahead with the removal.
“This area is totally remote from any other classrooms. No students will be allowed near this area. It is an unused area.”
Jimmy Wingfield, president and owner of Wingfield Environmental, said the mold removal should pose no danger to students or staff at the school, but most work is expected to be completed during times when students are not in the building.
For the removal, Wingfield said the area will be isolated using plastic and negative pressure, and those removing the mold will wear the proper safety equipment. Air samples will also be taken throughout the process.
“Mold is natural,” Wingfield said. “There’s no environment that’s going to be spore-free. Those things are microscopic. They’re inside your home. They’re in operating rooms. They’re in hospitals. You’re never going to have a zero mold spore count. What we look for as we do the testing are what mold spores are present, what ratios are present. ... What is in that one culinary arts section is isolated to that area. Since it’s under negative pressure once mitigation begins, it’s not going to go to other areas.”
Wingfield said it was unlikely that any of the building occupants will suffer health problems related to the discovery of mold.
“Typically with health issues you’re talking about long-term exposure before you see any type of health issues,” Wingfield said. “Long-term exposure being a couple of months of exposure for prolonged hours. Sickness can be anything from headaches to general malaise, runny nose, watery eyes — things that are very typical of allergies. Again, that’s going to be a situation of chronic exposure.”
Other areas at North affected by flooding included some administrative areas and a drafting classroom. Akard said no mold growth has been identified in the building. He said the school system intends to monitor North classrooms very closely, as well as continuing to check for growth at other schools.