Howard County Public Schools officials say they are installing a new heating, ventilating and air conditioning system at Glenwood Middle School to remedy a recurring mold problem there.
The issue has been a growing source of concern for Glenwood parents over the past week. They say they are just hearing about the mold, although public schools Superintendent Renee Foose said it's been an "ongoing problem.
"This isn't something that's just cropped up," Foose said at a Board of Education meeting on June 25 after board member Bess Altwerger raised the topic. "This is something we've been working on for multiple years now, and we've made a tremendous investment to remediate that issue."
Foose said the school system has had "multiple meetings" about the school's mold problem. "We've addressed it," she said.
The new HVAC system is the next step, according to school officials.
Glenwood Middle School Principal David Brown sent an email to parents on June 17 announcing that "a major renovation is being completed at Glenwood with the Heating, Ventilation and Air System."
Though the email did not specifically mention mold, Brown wrote that "the new system will replace many of the original units and will be able to control, with more accuracy, the level of humidity in the building."
According to school system spokeswoman Rebecca Amani-Dove, the HVAC replacement is currently 60 percent finished and will be complete two days before staff return for the new school year on Aug. 17.
Amani-Dove said the source of the mold was "sweating pipes" in the building.
"Last week, there was an isolated issue, a single piece of pipe sweating, which was immediately corrected," she said. "Issues with mold in the past have been addressed and corrected as well."
Amani-Dove did not immediately provide further details about prior mold issues, although an Aug. 9, 2013 email posted to a Glenwood Middle School public folder detailed "minor visible mold growth" on bulletin boards, edges of student desks and fabric desk chairs due to "limited availability of air conditioning and the high heat and humidity" that summer.
According to Brown, a contractor cleaned and disinfected the mold-impacted areas, and the school threw out a few moldy bulletin boards.
"As of this time, we believe that these actions have addressed the situation," he wrote in 2013.
As news of a new mold problem surfaced this week, however, some parents have reacted with a mixture of surprise and anger. Many said they hadn't been aware of earlier issues.
"I'm sure because the school is old there are issues, but mold is a big one," said Martha Brodsky, whose seventh-grader attends Glenwood Middle.
Mold can have a negative impact on health, causing nasal congestion, irritated eyes, wheezing and skin rashes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People with a mold allergy or asthma may experience more severe reactions, such as fever, shortness of breath or a lung infection.
Two of Brodsky's older children attended Glenwood over the past few years, but "this is the first I've heard of" the mold problem, she said.
Vicky Cutroneo, another parent, said her daughter has experienced hair loss and has had difficulty breathing in some of the school's classrooms.
"Parents were never notified," she said.
On June 25, before the school board meeting, the PTA Council of Howard County sent a letter to Foose and the Board of Education expressing "growing concern from parents and students, and staff, from Glenwood Middle School about a mold issue at the school."
"We are concerned that students, teachers, staff and community members have been exposed to the mold without knowing that they have been exposed," the letter continues. "It is the responsibility of the HCPSS to provide information about the presence of mold at Glenwood Middle School immediately... ."
Altwerger, who brought up the mold issue at the meeting, said she wants to make sure parents are kept in the loop.
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"I know it's being addressed, but I want to make sure that the parents, all of the parents, have been notified that it is being taken care of," she said. "We would never want that to continue."