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Starke Elementary will reopen in the spring

Nearly $2 million needed to fix school


Telegraph Editor

Plans to cleanup Starke Elementary and prevent future mold outbreaks are taking shape, and as expected, they are turning out to be costly.

Students and staff will be able to return in several month’s time, however, according to a district spokesperson.

“We expect students to return to Starke Elementary School on March 18,” said Community Relations Coordinator Brian Graham.

The day falls on a Tuesday following spring break as well as an additional planning day.

The assessment of the issues at the school are more than 75 percent complete, and architect Paul Stressing has told the district that a report complete with corrective recommendations will be ready by the end of the month.

They already believe they have isolated the primary causes of the mold growth, including failed or compromised mechanical equipment, problems with the automated controls, insufficient outside air ventilation and building pressure, and multiple breaches in the perimeter building’s thermal envelope. Voids in the thermal envelope have occurred because of shifting, settling or sagging insulation caused by age and the expanding and contracting of building materials.

New automated controls were installed on the 15-year-old equipment until the new mechanical equipment arrives. That alone could take 12 or more weeks, which means repairs are necessary on the existing equipment, and portable dehumidifiers must be brought in to help dry out the interior spaces in the meantime. Stressing said they need to establish a controllable environment that prohibits the growth of mold.

While they wait for the new equipment, they will work to repair the building envelope. Once it arrives, it will be installed, and the ductwork will be cleaned or replaced. When the repairs and replacements are complete, Stressing said the interior spaces would receive a top down cleaning by a licensed mold remediation contractor with direction from a mold assessment consultant.

“Once complete, the buildings will be retested and when found acceptable the buildings will be certified by an independent air quality testing company before allowing student occupancy,” said Stressing.

To fund the work, it was necessary for the district to amend its capital outlay budget to provide $936,000. Money was subtracted from several projects, including funds for school reroofing, lighting and paving, and wireless connectivity. Other projects were wiped out entirely, including a school bus purchase, drainage and fencing work, and building replacement at Southside Elementary School. In fact, most of the funding—more than a half-million dollars—came from the money that had been accumulating over time for Southside.

“The superintendent, Dr. Miller, Mr. Sapp and I met and we tried to pick projects that are less critical,” Finance Director Julee Tinsler said. “I mean all the projects are needed, but these are the less critical ones.”

Even with such a deep sacrifice, the school district will still find itself in the position of borrowing money for the Starke Elementary remediation. Tinsler placed the amount at $850,000, saying it was better to aim a little too high than too low.

“We don’t know exactly how much we are going to need,” she said, adding she will only draw upon what is needed to complete the work.

The school board will vote on the emergency loan in November once responses are received from lenders.

Starke Elementary was also added to the district’s project priority list, making it eligible for $177,000 that has accumulated over several years just for such projects.

In total, the cost estimate comes to more than $1.96 million.

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