Testing at District Heights Elementary School finds inadequate air supply, no significant mold

After many parents at District Heights Elementary School voiced their concerns and anger earlier this week over what they fear is a health hazard from conditions inside their school, Prince George's County Public Schools said independent testing performed last week found there was no significant evidence of toxic mold in the building. However, the results did find there was inadequate air quality in some classrooms.

School board members debated this issue for over an hour at a meeting on Thursday with many of them saying if they believed the kids and staff were in danger, they would have already moved them out to another school. They also pointed out to the results of the independent testing.

"It is safe and we are confident that the work is done on increased air flow and the test results that we have tell us that building is safe or we would not be sending people there," said Prince George's County Public Schools CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell.

"I know that some of my colleagues may want to relocate the school, but the leader of that school, in evaluating the logistics of it, understanding the science behind it, does not want to relocate," said school board member K. Alexander Wallace.

However, two school board members said they are still concerned about the situation.

"We are still testing and based on testimony … some of the issues will take six to eight weeks to fix, some will take two [weeks] to fix, and as we do that, I'm requesting that we remove those students and staff out of that environment until we know for sure that they are safe," said school board member Edward Burroughs.

"I'm frustrated because I'm not sure what more we need to hear," said board member David Murray.

Earlier this week on Monday, a public meeting at the school became very heated after some parents and staff members said the building is not safe and is to blame for the widespread respiratory sickness going around the school. It got so emotional that kids had to be escorted to another room.

Video and photos provided to FOX 5 showed what appeared to be mold and water damage on the ceiling tiles inside the school that are believed to have been taken within the last month. But some at Thursday's school board meeting said those pictures were old.

The recent independent testing performed last week examined two offices, six classrooms, a media room and a storage room. Only one classroom came back with a marginally elevated level of non-toxic mold spore count, which has now been closed off.

School officials said another round of air quality testing began Wednesday on the entire building. They also pointed out they have started addressing the air quality issues inside the school and laid out a timeline for projects to help fix the problems.

The company that conducted the testing recommended the following after its findings:

-- Replace all water-stained ceiling tiles in the main office, storage room and one classroom.
-- Ensure the HVAC system is properly maintained to provide adequate ventilation throughout the building.
-- Adjust the HVAC system to improve the air supply to four classrooms and the media room.

Prince George's County Public Schools (PGCPS) Building Services staff found inadequate ventilation throughout the school due to several inoperable exhaust fans and low-functioning HVAC units. Work has been underway to repair and replace those items:

-- 23 out of 25 exhaust fans have been repaired.
-- 11 out of 26 classroom unit ventilators have been cleaned and serviced.
-- Air filters have been cleaned and replaced.
-- Ventilation system undergoing a check and cleaning to increase airflow.

In addition, plans have been expedited for a capital improvement project this summer to replace rooftop HVAC units and chillers. That work will now begin in late April with a target June completion date.

Here is the air quality improvement time at District Heights Elementary School:

Projected Completion Dates

Work completed by April 7
-- Heat Pumps - Modular Addition: Six heat pumps in classrooms 19, 20, and 21 to be installed

Work completed by April 10
-- Indoor Air Quality Assessment: Results from entire building expected

Work completed by April 13
-- Classroom Unit Ventilators: 15 ventilators to be serviced after school hours
-- Roof Top Units (RTUs): Two newest units to be serviced and cleaned
-- Air Handler - Cafeteria: Serviced and cleaned

Work completed by April 26
-- Roof Top Units (RTUs): Third RTU to be installed (expedited Capital Improvement Program project)

Work completed by May 15
-- Classroom Temperature Controls: All controls to be replaced
-- Air Handler - Cafeteria Controls: All controls to be replaced

May-June 2017
-- Roof Top Units (RTUs): Replace fourth RTU (currently operating, but past life cycle)
-- Chiller Replacement: Two new chillers to be installed; one is currently operating. (expedited Capital Improvement Program project)

Summer 2017
-- Drywall - Modular Addition: Repair source of water infiltration