Northampton on track to open high, middle schools Friday after mold remediation

  • Northampton Schools Superintendent John Provost, donning a JFK Middle School Huskies mask, answers questions about the discovery and removal of mold in the high school and middle school during a press conference in his office on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton Schools Superintendent John Provost answers questions about the discovery and removal of mold in the high school and middle school during a press conference in his office on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton Schools Superintendent John Provost answers questions about the discovery and removal of mold in the high school and middle school during a press conference in his office Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 9/1/2021 6:32:16 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Cleanup efforts were underway Wednesday in both Northampton High School and JFK Middle School, where mold was found on hard surfaces in a total of six classrooms.

In a press briefing Wednesday, schools Superintendent John Provost said both schools would begin in-person learning on Friday — a day later than the district had originally planned to welcome middle and high schoolers back to class. The mold was discovered Tuesday in the high school in four classrooms as teachers returned to the building for professional development and began moving into their spaces for the start of the year, he said.

“We immediately evacuated the building so we could do a comprehensive search and begin a process of remediation,” Provost said. “This is all surface mold — it wasn’t in the tiles or any of the other surfaces.”

Provost said the mold was the result of condensation from efforts to increase airflow in the building as part of the district’s plan to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Humid air was brought into the building, and colder areas like desktops and walls developed condensation, allowing the mold to grow.

Mold also was discovered in JFK Middle School on Wednesday during a teacher work day. The mold was again on hard surfaces, and Provost said the two classrooms with mold are being thoroughly cleaned just like at the high school.

“Again, very easy to clean, and at the middle school it was much less extensive than at the high school,” Provost said.

The remediation work was expected to finish by the end of Wednesday, at which point the air quality will be tested. The rooms in question will remain sealed off until those air quality tests are satisfactory, Provost said. The testing is expected to conclude Friday, meaning school will start with those classrooms closed.

There was also possible mold discovered on one or two items at Bridge Street Elementary School, Provost said. Those items were removed, and all of the district’s elementary school students will begin school on Thursday.

Massachusetts experienced its wettest July on record this year, together with a particularly rainy August. Provost said the air chiller in Northampton was not running during August, when nobody was using the building, leading to warm and damp conditions. Rain leftover from Hurricane Ida began pummeling the region Wednesday during Provost’s press conference, though he said he’s optimistic that fall will bring drier conditions.

As for lessons learned from the experience, Provost said it is still too early to tell. He said he has been in touch with the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and received positive feedback on the steps the district had taken.

Northampton isn’t the only school district dealing with mold problems. South Hadley announced Tuesday, just one day before the start of the new school year, that high schoolers would begin classes remotely after a “white/black substance” was discovered growing across the building.

However, 22 News reported that Superintendent Jahmal Mosley told parents in a letter Wednesday that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education “does not believe that remote learning qualifies as structured learning,” throwing the district’s plan into uncertainty.

Efforts to reach Mosley for clarification Wednesday were unsuccessful .

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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