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Cox's Creek mold issue sets back teachers' schedules

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By Chris Mura

The beginning of the school year is just around the corner for Nelson County students, but for Cox’s Creek Elementary School teachers, preparing for the new year has proven stressful. The discovery of a widespread mold problem in the building has caused administrators to scramble to find a cause and a cure and has left teachers with deconstructed classrooms as cleaning continues. The issue has also postponed the school’s Open House event, which had previously been scheduled for Aug. 3.

“Our first priority at Cox’s Creek Elementary is to ensure that our building is clean and safe for our students, families and staff,” Principal Haley Victery wrote in a message posted to the school’s website Thursday. “The Nelson County School District has been partnering with an abatement company to guarantee that all mold is removed from our building, and that our learning environment is ready to go by our Kinder Camp on Aug. 1.”

Monday afternoon, some teachers and district officials gathered for discussion about the mold issue and health concerns, with many saying the problem has been one staff have faced for years, but with short-term solutions. Maintenance workers might replace the bottom of a sink but not the sides, they said, or stack wet ceiling tiles on top of each other to slow water damage.

Tim Hockensmith, Chief Operating Officer for Nelson County Schools, said that a new HVAC system had been installed in 2014, one that was identical to those in other Nelson County schools. Other schools, however, hadn’t had similar problems with mold. When Hockensmith said the HVAC system should have helped with the existing mold problem three years ago, teachers protested, arguing that they continued to find mold on tables, chairs, and books. Teachers also reported inconsistent temperatures in the building even after the HVAC system was installed. Some classrooms might be very cold, they said, while their neighbors were burning. Hockensmith suggested that the rooms could be close in temperature, and that different people could be cold or hot in the same room. Several teachers said their concerns had not been taken seriously in the past, especially after the new HVAC system was installed and things had been considered fixed.

The district hired Abatement Solutions Technologies, a Louisville-based contractor that partially specializes in mold removal, to clean up the affected areas. A representative said that it was a Level 1 situation, which he explained meant there was less than 10 square feet of mold in most classrooms. Despite the low numbers, some teachers weren’t satisfied.

As part of the cleaning effort, everything discolored by mold or made of a porous material, such as paper, was stripped from the rooms and put in boxes in a large storage container. Although Hockensmith assured the teachers they would be reimbursed for all their materials, it was little comfort for those who had already fully decorated their rooms for the new school year.

In her message Thursday, Victery announced that the school’s Open House would be moved to Aug. 7, from 5-7 p.m., in an effort to allow teachers more time to prepare their classrooms.

“At Cox’s Creek Elementary our teachers take a great deal of pride in designing their classrooms and creating an environment for optimal student success,” Victery wrote. “After our building has been thoroughly inspected, our teachers and staff want to spend time setting up their classrooms to make sure your student feels welcome and ready to learn each day. Teachers are anxious to get back in their classrooms and begin setting up for a successful school year.”

Nelson County administrators have not yet settled on a single reason for the mold problem. Some suggested that the air conditioner was turned down too much in summer, leaving a still, hot environment perfect for mold growth. Hockensmith floated the idea that Cox’s Creek white roof was partly to blame. Because the roof reflects light and kept the building cooler naturally, the HVAC system may have had less occasion to run, according to the theory, which Hockensmith made clear was nothing more than speculation.

Hockensmith said the rooms should be cleaned by Aug. 1, plus a day to test for any remaining mold.