West / Regional Reports

Mold To Keep Students Away Until March

February 16, 2002
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PAHRUMP, NV — Mold problems at Pahrump Valley High School will keep students in temporary classrooms until late March.

The school closed Jan. 23 after Environmental Health Services reported the presence of the mold spore Stachybotrys chartarum in two areas of the school. Nye County School Board member Mary Alice Atkinson said the mold check was conducted after the school received a complaint from a teacher.

The high school, which serves about 900 students, resumed classes in temporary facilities on Jan. 30. Portable classrooms are being used as is the school’s technology center. Rod Pekarek, interim superintendent of the Nye County School District, said that testing by Environmental Health Services showed no mold problems exist in the modular buildings.

The arrangement will continue until the mold problem is cleared from two wings of the high school, work that is expected to take up to four weeks. Pekarek said the tests showed the heaviest concentrations of mold were in the locker room area. He said mold growth in the 600 Classroom Wing was found to be moderate.

A Las Vegas construction company has been working since Jan. 25 tearing out portions of drywall with mold growth. The problem is thought to have been caused by flooding at the high school in 1997 and a problem with a broken water pipe that same year.

Other Nye County schools have been tested for mold. Tests showed that Hafen Elementary School and Beatty High School showed no problems, with fungal spore levels equal to or less than what is found outdoors.

About 300 students and parents bombarded Nye County health and education officials with questions at a special meeting held Jan. 28 at Manse Elementary School. One resident, Denise Holt, wanted to know if the newly discovered mold is to blame for the migraines her son has experienced since becoming a high school student. Another resident, Pat Sistrunk, wanted to know whether the mold is responsible for the bouts of nausea her sophomore daughter experiences in class.

Exposure to certain types of mold spores can cause upper respiratory problems and flu-like symptoms in some people.

“The difficulty is, so much of what you experience mimics other illnesses,” Maureen Budhahl, Nye County’s health officer, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “But the cure, the remedy, the fix for this is to remove the individual from the source of the mold. And that’s what’s been done.”

Pahrump Valley High School principal Jerry Hill said the move has not necessarily been pleasant, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

“The kids were great,” said Hill after students reported to their new surroundings on Jan. 30. “The staff was great. We had parent volunteers here. I’ve never seen people come together in such a cooperative effort. It’s not the best situation in the world, but we’re making it work.”

Box lunches and pizza were served to students in an outdoor tent because the cafeteria is in the main building, which is closed.

The cost of the cleanup is a concern for Pahrump officials, who know from experience how costly it can be. Last year, mold contamination shut down the Nye County complex in Pahrump. Nye County Commissioner Cameron McRae, who lives in Pahrump, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that those offices are still closed, with employees working at other sites.

“That’s probably cost us about $1.5 million,” McRae told the Las Vegas newspaper. “It’s been expensive.”

Atkinson said the school district is strapped for cash and may need outside help to pay for mold mitigation. It was not known what was finalized, if anything, at a Feb. 6 meeting between county commissioners and school officials.

Publication date: 02/18/2002

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