West Rowan Middle closed after mold detected

Published 2:38 pm Tuesday, August 23, 2022

SALISBURY — West Rowan Middle School is closed through the end of the week after a contractor found evidence of elevated mold levels in the school’s HVAC system.

Rowan-Salisbury Schools sent out a message to parents on Monday night describing “new evidence of microbial growth” in the school’s HVAC system. Rowan-Salisbury Schools has moved all classes for the school online for the rest of the week while the school is cleaned.

A message from RSS Chief of Schools Gregg Slate sent to families Monday night says the district received test results that afternoon that “confirmed microbial growth.”

The message says the issue “cannot be addressed effectively at this stage if students and staff are in the building.”

The message goes on to say custodial staff at the school reported microbial growth to the district earlier this month and upon testing it was not positive for mold, though crews were brought in to clean those areas. When new testing results came in Monday afternoon it was a different story.

Rowan-Salisbury Schools Chief Operations Officer Anthony Vann said a private contractor tested the school for mold and results returned Monday afternoon showed elevated levels of aspergillus or penicillium.

An article on indoor air sampling for mold from the College of Environmental Science and Forestry at the State University of New York (SUNY) says the molds are often reported together because they are the same shape and have to be studied under a microscope to determine which is which. The two genus of fungi contain more than 400 species collectively and some species have shown associations with respiratory illness.

The SUNY article notes high levels of either genus do not necessarily cause illness. Research published by the National Institutes of Health notes both genus are ubiquitous in the environment, but some species can be harmful to some people at high levels. They can cause a long list of symptoms including respiratory illness.

Vann said the source of the growth has not been identified as of Tuesday afternoon, but the district expects to know more about the issue and when the school can reopen as vendors work on site for the next few days.

Vann said crews are performing detailed cleaning on the entire school, including equipment and air ducts. He said mold growth is common while maintenance is taking place on HVAC equipment because humidity levels rise. West Middle had work completed on its HVAC system recently, but schools have routine work performed on their systems often.

“I hate to speculate until our testing firm can get results back to us and they can nail it down for us,” Vann said.

The school took to Facebook to post the office hour schedules for students, iPad pickup information at West Rowan High School, information on requesting mobile hotspots and meals.

Meals will be free for West Middle students to pick up from West Rowan Elementary from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. for the rest of the week. Breakfasts for the following morning will be provided with lunches.

The school is asking parents to fill out a form to receive pick-up lunches by Wednesday at 4 p.m. here.

Are you a staff member or do you have a student that has suffered respiratory symptoms while attending West Middle? Email carl.blankenship@salisburypost.com.

About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

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