Mold contamination costs hit $1.4 million at South Hadley High School 

  • Amy Foley, an English and special education teacher at South Hadley High School, talks Monday, Sept. 27, 2021, about all the items that were removed from a classroom to get ready to open after a mold infestation. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/7/2021 7:00:41 AM

SOUTH HADLEY — The cost of remediating a massive mold infestation at South Hadley High School earlier this year has ballooned to $1.4 million, according to figures provided in Select Board documents for its meeting Tuesday. 

The costs include $784,574 for mold mitigation work done by the firm ServiceMaster Recovery Management, $44,500 for mold testing done by two other firms, $12,000 estimated to deal with the high school’s weight room, and $500,000 estimated for air conditioner splits and dehumidifiers.

In addition to those costs, the district is looking to spend $67,865 to replace some of the thousands of items that were thrown away during the cleanup.

Among the thousands of discarded items were textbooks and educational materials, science lab equipment, teachers’ personal items, technology and hundreds of other class materials, according to a district spreadsheet that the Gazette obtained earlier this year through a public records request.

The school’s mold problems began just days before an expected Sept. 1 start date for classes. The state, which has refused to allow remote learning amid the continued pandemic, permitted South Hadley to use seven days of remote learning, but the district will have to make up 11 total days missed amid an extensive cleanup.

High school students and staff have already made up four of those days, including on three Saturdays. The high school will make up the rest of the days on Dec. 18, Feb. 22 through Feb. 25, April 15 and on one additional “pupil day” added at the end of the school year.

So far, the Select Board has approved $841,074 in spending on the mold debacle. That money has come out of the $5,268,233 that the town is receiving through the federal coronavirus relief bill known as the American Rescue Plan Act.

Of the $67,865.81 that the district has estimated it needs to spend on replacement items, $41,864 is for the replacement of cord boards and whiteboards across the school. That spending will be before the Select Board on Tuesday for approval.

Other replacement costs include $4,351 for science department supplies,such as microscopes and gloves; $2,816 for art supplies; $2,100 for safety evacuation materials; $1,825 for U.S. flags and their holders; $1,767 for front office supplies, from heaters and fans to mouse pads and earbuds; $1,044 for chalk; and $1,065 for dehumidifiers, calculators, glow sticks and masks.

The district’s breakdown of items that were discarded included teachers’ and staff members’ personal items — everything from decorations and pictures to chairs and a mini-fridge. Those items are not being replaced by the district.

In a phone interview Monday, district Superintendent Jahmal Mosley said he is looking forward to “chapter one” of the mold saga to be over. As for what comes next, Mosley was succinct: “Chapter two: capital improvement. Chapter three: make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

To that end, the district has also included in its costs a $500,000 estimate for air conditioner splits and dehumidifiers.

Jennifer Voyik, the district’s business administrator, said that estimate is coming from the early stages of work that an engineer is doing, looking at the building to determine what kind of preventive maintenance can be done to ensure mold stays out of South Hadley High School.

“That’s just a starting estimate,” Voyik said. “Just because we’re still in the beginning process of making sure we are doing the right thing, we don’t have a final quote yet.”

Mosley said that the district is also exploring other options, including applying for funding through the Massachusetts School Building Authority to make improvements in the building.

“We have a sick building there,” he said. “There’s more work to be done around the building.”

South Hadley wasn’t the only district impacted by mold this fall.

This summer was the fourth wettest on record in Massachusetts, according to federal data. As a result, buildings across the region ran into problems with mold, including two schools in Northampton that had to delay the start of their school year.

Climate experts predict that climate change will lead to wetter, warmer summers in New England and elsewhere.

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