South Hadley High School reckons with thousands of lost items contaminated by mold 

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

Staff Writer
Published: 10/10/2021 7:54:11 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — After a massive mold infestation was discovered inside South Hadley High School in late August, school officials had to throw out thousands of items including textbooks and educational materials, science lab equipment, teachers’ personal items, technology and hundreds upon hundreds of other class materials.

The items are detailed in a spreadsheet the Gazette obtained through a public records request that the school district used to track items as they were tossed out during mold remediation work in September.

The day before students were ready to return to in-person learning on Sept. 1 — some for the first time since March 2020 — mold was discovered nearly everywhere inside the school. A massive clean-up effort ensued as district officials scrambled to convince the state education department, which has banned virtual learning this year, to let students begin the year remotely.

Students and staff were able to return to a clean building on Sept. 28 after the firm ServiceMaster Recovery Management finished its remediation work.

The work is expected to cost the district $767,928, according to ServiceMaster Recovery Management’s estimate. Another project budget, which the Gazette also obtained through a public record request, shows that a second firm — Atlas Technical Consultants, or ATC — estimated it would cost the district $42,000 to conduct testing during and after remediation.

But those cost estimates, totaling more than $800,000, do not include replacing the enormous amount of items thrown away during the cleanup.

The district’s spreadsheet of items lost to the mold is split into several categories: text books, technology, personal items, class materials and miscellaneous. And each category is filled with stuff that was discarded from 60 classrooms, offices and closets.

Jennifer Voyik, the district’s business administrator, wrote in an email to the Gazette that the School Department doesn’t yet have any estimates put together for replacing the items thrown in the trash, though high school staff is currently working on that estimate. She also said the district’s spreadsheet doesn’t yet include several items that officials have not yet added to the list.

The list of lost materials includes: hundreds of textbooks, library books and other reading materials; dozens of science-lab materials and equipment, from 14 Bunsen burners to giant beakers, glass containers and many other lab tools; technology ranging from a SMARTBoard to walkie-talkies, phone and computer chargers, scientific calculators and more; clothing and other cloth materials such as chemistry aprons, flags hanging in classrooms, all clothing and costumes from a prop closet and hard hats.

Teachers and staff lost many items to the mold, too. The items that are documented in the spreadsheet include posters, decorations, thank-you notes from students, pictures, chairs, a mini-fridge, a coffee machine, a smart speaker, lamps, books, clothing and much more. Also among the items were countless classroom supplies.

Last week, teachers preparing their classrooms for the first day back inside the building told the Gazette that they were missing years' worth of educational materials from their walls, desks, and bookshelves.

In a phone interview Friday, schools Superintendent Jahmal Mosley said that the district is in the process of sorting out what to do about district-owned items that need replacing and what personal items to replace.

“We really discourage teachers bringing in personal items because it’s hard to be responsible for them — we don’t track them in inventory,” he said. “But the district also needs to provide teachers with all they need so that they don’t need to bring in personal items.”

Mosley said that the district is currently in talks with the teachers union about how and when to make up the 11 days students missed at the beginning of the year due to the state education department not permitting online learning for part of the remediation period.

“There’s a lot to learn out of this,” he said. “And nobody wins out of it.”

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


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