By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: February 11, 2019 | 4:30p.m.
Eight rooms cleaned by company; one room found to have “elevated” air quality readings
PRINCE GEORGE – “We have taken the problem and addressed it.”
Those were the words of David Hornbeck, owner of Capital Fire and Water remediation services as his crews worked inside Walton Elementary School Monday following concerns of the possibility of mold and mildew being present in some classrooms at the school.
According to a letter sent home to parents on Friday, following environmental assessments by The EI Group, Inc.: Environmental, Health and Safety Solutions and Froehling and Robertson, Inc, some rooms at the school were recommended for “professional cleaning,” which took place throughout the weekend as trucks from Capital Fire and Water were seen parked outside the facility.
Their work carried forward into Monday after school leaders made the decision Sunday afternoon to close the school until Wednesday for “school-wide cleaning,” according to automated messages sent to parents.
Monday, crews with Capital Fire and Water walked the corridors of the open-air school in the rainy and blustery weather with cleaning supplies and equipment in tow. Overseeing the cleaning was Hornbeck, who said air quality readings were “elevated” inside one of the rooms based on the information provided by the two companies contracted by the school division to do the assessments.
In total, Hornbeck said his company cleaned eight rooms, ranging from classrooms to administrative locations.
“The entire facility was tested and then we ended up cleaning eight rooms total, just because visually we saw some things that could be done and just for the safety of the kids and we owed it to the community to make it right,” remarked Hornbeck. “We went off the hygienist’s report and we cleaned about 75 percent more than what it said to do just so everything is right.”
Capital Fire and Water Owner David Hornbeck oversees the cleaning process at Walton Elementary School Monday morning. (Michael Campbell/The Prince George Journal)
In a letter that, according to Walton ES parents, was sent home to parents in January of this year, school principal Chrystal Bland Barnwell said their maintenance department was in the process of “addressing the possibility of mold and mildew being present” and that those rooms were not being used, with those classes being reassigned to the school’s computer labs.
At that time, she said the three rooms “have been thoroughly treated,” adding that an environmental company would be conducting tests on January 29 and additional updates, such as further actions or when their students can return to their classrooms would be passed along as they became available.
On February 8, the results led to the professional cleaning that occurred over the weekend into the start of this week. In an interview Friday, Prince George County Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Dr. Lisa Pennycuff said that a total of “six classrooms” had been “impacted by the results of the testing,” with the initial testing costing the school division $3,750, which came from their maintenance and operations budget.
As he managed his staff Monday, Hornbeck detailed what some of the things they saw “visually” were and what goes into cleaning a building like a school.
“You almost treat the area like it had a fire,” he said. “Every little piece of contents (sic) and structure gets HEPA [high-efficiency particulate air]-vacced and wiped.”
He continued, “We were running air scrubbers during the work,” noting, as of Monday afternoon, the results on the classroom that had “elevated readings” were not back in so it is unknown if that room is ready to resume normal use. That room saw nearly a dozen people working to clean and sanitize the facility over the weekend, Hornbeck explained.
“We felt a big enough concern with the one [room] having elevated readings … before we could find out if the others had it, it was advised to go shut the school down,” Hornbeck said. “They could relocate a classroom for a short time, but it was about how many others have this.”
According to Hornbeck, much of the work involved cleaning and addressing dust in many of the rooms.
“Around your house, dust and debris can form so we cleaned the ducts and stuff,” he said. “There were a couple of stains on the ceilings we addressed, even though the tape lifts from the hygienists came back that they weren’t high for any mold. If you are looking at it and saw discoloration, it is not a very good look or for the potential of what is above it. We HEPA-vacced it, cleaned it, treated it and encapsulated it with an antimicrobial paint.”
When asked, Hornbeck said the affected rooms were in different locations and not confined to just one group of classrooms or offices at the open-air school.
A question brought up by some in the community centered around the role air ducts could play in this kind of situation. While he was unable to speak to the age of the filters at Walton and when was the last time they were changed, Hornbeck did confirm that all of the school’s filters were being replaced.
“In general, for your house and anywhere, you want to clean your duct system every so often because it does accumulate dust and dander; [it] doesn’t have to be mold that is making you not breathe very well in a respiratory sense,” he said. “When we take those apart, we are HEPA vacuuming, cleaning, and treating things up in there.”
He added there are plans to do a “complete duct cleaning throughout the school during its downtime”
“It doesn’t necessarily need it right not but, that makes it that much better and be a good bandage until they replace this place,” Hornbeck said.
Replacing Walton Elementary has been a topic of conversation for, at least the last two years, dating back to 2017 when the school division’s core committee told the county board of supervisors the facility, along with Beazley Elementary needed to be replaced due to their age and both being open-air schools, which are difficult to lock down in security situations. Last week, Pennycuff said last Friday Walton “is the top priority for replacement for the Prince George County School Board.”
Discussion of the new school have not moved much in 2019 as the debate about its location continues, a fact confirmed by Prince George County Administrator Percy Ashcraft.
“There have been private discussions between members of [the board of supervisors] and members of the school board, but as far as it being an agenda item where it was discussed by my board in its entirety, it would have been that work session in December,” he said, referring to an early December 2018 meeting where supervisors were briefed on the tax impacts of the school, which is currently estimated to cost over $30 million to build.
When asked, Prince George School Board vice-chair Lewis Stevenson did not comment on the the school board’s position on the ongoing cleaning at Walton or the current state of the proposed elementary school, differing to school division superintendent Renee Williams.
“We have decided we’re going to have a consistent message coming from the school board office from Renee [Williams],” Stevenson said.
The parking lot at Walton Elementary School was empty Monday, save a number of Capital Fire and Water vehicles as crews worked to clean the school following environmental assessments that showed concerning air quality readings. (Michael Campbell/The Prince George Journal)
As for Walton, Hornbeck, the father of a young daughter, said he felt taking on the job was the right thing to do for the community and wants parents to feel confident in having their children return to school Wednesday.
“I have a daughter myself who is in preschool and I only took this job because I felt like, ‘Hey, if I was that parent, what would I want for my own kid.'” Hornbeck said. “We have plenty of work, we didn’t need to come do this but my guys worked on this all weekend.”
He continued, “When I saw the kids running around the playground at recess, I thought that I couldn’t leave them stranded. So, we came in and we did it right,” adding that they enlisted a third-party company to come in and do their own testing to confirm that the cleaning was thorough.
While he said only eight rooms were cleaned by his crews, Hornbeck explained the reason was “because no data showed from the sampling that anything was needed” to be done in the rooms that were not serviced by his crews.
“The data showed the people did it and it is well enough for any child, parent, teacher,” he said. “I can assure them when they come back Wednesday that these classrooms are good to go for them.”
He also offered praise to school officials during his interactions with Prince George County Public Schools.
“Pretty much every school board member and administrator has been all over this so they have been with me every step of the way and they have been jumping on this once it escalated to this level,” Hornbeck remarked. “We have been talking all night and all morning. I am in the office at four in the morning getting it going again and being out here. They have been really good about this.”
As of this report, students are expected to return to Walton Elementary School on Wednesday, February 13.