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Rushford-Peterson School Board: What the flood revealed

Fri, Sep 21st, 2007
Posted in Education

New superintendent Chuck Ehler standing in the ventilation tunnel found under the floor in the choir room. It was full of “undesirable stuff” that was covered in black mold.

RUSHFORD - In an ironic twist, the recent flood has revealed some likely sources for air quality issues that have long been a concern at R-P schools.

Following the September 17 regular board meeting, superintendent Chuck Ehler took several board members and a reporter on an impromptu tour of the flood-damaged areas and pointed out a number of "revelations."

The floor of the music room had to be removed due to the flood, and beneath that floor was a wooden floor of three different levels, apparently used as risers for music students of the past. Under that floor ran an approximately three foot trough that Ehler said had been used for air flow, but was now capped at both ends in the music room.

That trough was full of "undesirable" things, covered in "black mold", according to Ehler. The area has been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, as has the rest of the school, Ehler said. The floor and trough in the music room currently have a white appearance because of a mold inhibitor placed there.

Ehler took the group across the hall to the former ECSE preschool room. Black mold was revealed when flood-damaged walls were removed in here, too.

"The black mold has been there for a long time," Ehler emphasized, wishing to make sure nobody thought the problem had just occurred with the flood. But if not for the flood, the mold would not have been discovered.

Just down the hall from the preschool room is the girls' bathroom, site of another revelation. While it is uncommon for public restrooms to actually smell good, this bathroom has long seemed to smell worse than most, according to almost anyone who's been in the school.

Ehler showed the group that when walls were removed in the bathroom after the flood, two open sewer drains were discovered in the floor behind the wall. The smell emanating from these drains was significant, and Ehler explained that the sewer gas was wafting up over the wall and into the entire lower floor of the school. The drains will be permanently capped.

A final revelation occurred when Ehler asked the MAVO cleaning and disinfecting team from Rochester to inspect and map the tunnel system that runs beneath the school. The tunnels have sand floors and are home to utility wiring and pipes.

According to Ehler, the MAVO employee who did the inspecting has a degree in engineering, and asked Ehler, after inspecting the tunnels, whether he realized the air flow was moving backward in that system.

At one end of the tunnel system, in the southeast corner of the building, is the shop area. Employees have long noticed that welding smells from the shop seemed to circulate throughout the school, particularly the elementary wing. Ehler believes that is because the tunnel system was pulling air back into the building at the shop site and then distributing it throughout the building. A fan will be installed to reverse the air flow, and will run "24/7", according to Ehler.

Earlier in the evening, at the school board meeting, Ehler informed the board that the legislature's flood relief Special Session would provide pupil aid in the amount of $89,000 (which will not quite cover the loss of nineteen students to other districts, because of the flood), a facility grant for $250,000, and transportation money of $40,000.

In addition, the school's insurance will provide the maximum of $25,000 for help with the sewer back-up.

The professional cleaning companies of Clean Response of St. Paul, and MAVO Systems of Rochester have presented bills with a combined total of over $100,000. Ehler praised the MAVO team for their outstanding job and professionalism, adding that MAVO disinfected all the buildings, sheds and bleachers on the athletic fields. FEMA will cover the cleaning bills.

The board approved Ehler's request to hire architect David Kane of Kane and Johnson Architects, Inc., to assist with the "complex restoration" of the Elementary/High School vocal music room.

The R-P Schools Relief Fund is over $8,000, according to Ehler. "It's just been overwhelming, the response that we've received," Ehler said of all the donations of school supplies. He was only half-joking when he said the district has enough student school supplies for next year, too.

The "boil order" was removed September 17 by state health officials for the city of Rushford, but as an extra precaution, R-P schools will continue to utilize bottled water for an extra week, Ehler said.

The board approved a request to use $30,000 in technology grant money to purchase thirty new desktop computers for an elementary computer lab. The laptops that were purchased have proven to be impractical for elementary student use, so they'll be moved to the high school.

In other business, the board:

• approved the maximum tax levy of $735,368.76 payable in 2008. As this amount represents less than a 4.2% increase, the board has learned that they're not required to hold the annual Truth in Taxation hearing which is historically sparsely attended.

• authorized Roger Metz to move ahead on establishing a Rushford-Peterson Schools Foundation.

• learned of an attempted break-in at the middle school, which was reported to the Fillmore County Sheriff.

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