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Be aggressive, open with mold problems, trustees told

South Boston News
John Owen, former president of IMEC Engineers in Lynchburg, addresses the Halifax County School Board about mold in the Halifax County High School. (David Conner II photo) / September 04, 2013

A meeting of the Halifax County School Board Wednesday to consider the advice of an expert on mold drew a packed room of parents, school employees and others to the Mary Bethune Complex in Halifax.

The trustees took no action but urged citizens to fully communicate their views and provide information on mold issues at Halifax County High School, where an outbreak was detected over the summer.

The main speaker at the meeting was John Owen, former president of IMEC Engineers in Lynchburg, which played a pivotal role in the clean-up of mold at Jefferson Forest High School in Bedford, which was briefly forced to close in 2001 due to mold infestation.

While he said he would await the results of an air quality inspection this week at HCHS by a Christiansburg firm before making any recommendation, Owen said he believes a step as drastic as closing the school is probably unnecessary. He made the observation in response to a trustee’s question.

By the same token, however, Owen said the board should act aggressively to stay on top of the problem.

An important step, he added, is listening to the concerns of the public — advice the trustees pledged to heed.

“You may e-mail your comments to the school principal or to the superintendent or to any school board member,” School Board Vice Chairman Dick Stoneman urged members of the audience. “We need to hear from you.”

The meeting agenda did not include a public comment period.

Owen reinforced Stoneman’s plea for information, suggesting that parents should keep a log detailing complaints by their children. He said the information from students and staff could help determine areas of the school building that may need to be cleaned up.

HCHS Principal Albert Randolph, who also spoke, asked that students who have been absent due to mold issues to bring notes from their doctors to school so they would not receive unexcused absences. Randolph further urged students to keep up with their school work despite being absent.

Owen’s former firm, IMEC Engineers, was brought in to clean up Jefferson Forest School back in 2001 when the school was closed just 30 days before graduation due to a mold outbreak. Students were moved to Forest Middle School to finish out the year.

He said Halifax’s main goal should be making sure that mold does not reproduce. Until the humidity of the HCHS building is below 60 degrees, mold will reproduce, he said. Owen said he preferred to have the humidity remain around 50-55 degrees.

Owen also noted that the mechanical system of the school, which is now 33 years old, is not capable of easily handling the ventilation problems. “Ventilation HVAC regulations have changed significantly since this school was built,” he said, noting that there were no problems with mold until HVAC systems were put in use.

Without proper ventilation, Owen said, mold gets trapped in buildings and reproduces quickly on paper, wood and tile. HVAC systems don’t remove moisture, he said.

He pointed to good news: with cooler weather and less humidity, the problem will clear itself up in the coming winter months, in November and December as the building climate dries up. But the bad news is that it will reappear in the spring as warmer air and higher humidity move in.

The School Board will likely receive the results of indoor air tests conducted by Christiansburg-based HDH Technical at the end of the week. School Board Chairman Kim Farson told members of the audience that she hoped to make those results public at the School Board’s regular monthly meeting which is set for Monday evening, Sept. 9.

Owen said he will review the air quality test results as soon as they are available and then recommend the next steps to take in resolving the problem.

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“Until the humidity of the HCHS building is below 60 degrees, mold will reproduce, he said. Owen said he preferred to have the humidity remain around 50-55 degrees.”

Should read “Until the humidity of the HCHS building is below 60 percent, mold will reproduce, he said. Owen said he preferred to have the humidity remain around 50-55 percent.”

“HVAC systems don’t remove moisture, he said.”

He said that the HVAC system was set up to come on at a specific temperature and was not set to come on at a certain humidity percentage. He did not say “HVAC systems don’t remove moisture”

HVAC systems certainly remove moisture. That's why they were invented. Read some more here

We don’t need more misinformation.


That is some funny stuff right there, I don't care who you are. Soap and water baby. Keep'em coming.


Keep drinking the fluoride water. Trust me, it has never been scientifically proven to lower IQ's.


I love how Randolph said you have got to have a dr note etc. I am sick of the school telling me when I can and cannot keep my child out of school. I also love how they say email the board members. They don't pay jack squat attention to what we the public say. If they did, they would not vote on things the way they do. MOld has been in this building since it opened. I know I did my junior and senior year there. Then I went to work there for a while in the 90's. I want to know whose bright idea it was to put no windows in it. Fix the windows so they can open, let the teachers open the windows, that will help some. We were told when we worked there that we could not open windows due to the AC. AC is suppose to take moisture out of the air, just look at the drain on your central air sometimes.


Now, we have Delegate Edmonds checking for mold and a school board member arranging for an expert to appear before the board. Obviously, some folks don't understand their role. I am volunteering to go with Delegate Edmonds to Richmond in January -- there is some mess down there that I can help straighten out and he and his colleagues need my help!!!!! This little photo opt is RIDICULOUS!!!!!! Really?????

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