Concerns have been lodged against Chumuckla School...or a section of the school that was built in 1922 was called "toxic" in a letter sent to the school board this week.
The letter says the building has made more than 20 women on staff very sick and parents have complained to the administrators about their children's health. Around 100 students attended classes in the building this year.
Two teachers that became pregnant while working at the school had given birth to children with birth defects, according to the letter. One of those children died at 11 weeks. The other child had multiple surgeries.
The letter said "the mother's doctor told her the two babies born with serious birth defects within that period of time, where both mothers worked in the same environment, was not a coincidence."
Assistant Superintendent School Board Joey Harrell says officials are taking the allegations made against the school very seriously. They started receiving complaints earlier in the week.
"I'm not a medical doctor," Harrell said. "I certainly understand their concerns and it becomes very emotional. We're going to look. We're going to find out. Right now, I tend to believe there's nothing that's causing those issues."
He said the School Board is going to be proactive in getting to the bottom of the complaints, and find out the condition of the school.
"It appears to me that everyone thinks we have a sick building," he said. "You really need to take the next step and have it tested."
Harrell said they will begin testing as soon as possible and will be covering many bases.
"We want to ensure that the students, staff and parents who visit the school every day are safe," Harrell said. "We hear the concerns loud and clear and we're looking into them. When people are concerned, we're concerned."
The school board says they will be taking the next step will analyze the data and take action where necessary.
"We're doing a full-scale quality asbestos, air quality and mold sampling, scheduled to start early next week," Harrell said. "It will probably be around two weeks for lab results. I'm guessing that I'll have something by the first week of July."
The new principal of Chumuckla School, Danny Carnley, will be taking over day-to day operations this year. The former principal Sherry Smith accepted a title of director of student services. Carnley said there would be a small, skeleton staff of three administrators and clerical people working at the school through the summer.
"I am anxious to see what all the test reports are going to show," Carnley said. "I have the utmost confidence that our district is in control of the situation and is going to do the right thing."
There was a mold complaint that was looked into last year, after a teacher informed the school board of health issues, according to Harrell. The School Board followed standard protocol and had a state-qualified mold inspector perform a search of the building.
He says the independent contractor cleaned the air conditioner coils as a precaution, in case mold was being circulated through the building. The mold contractor inspected the air conditioning vents and performed a ultraviolet light sweep of the air ducts. Harrell said the ultraviolet light kills spores and was performed in the school as a precautionary measure.
"There's mold everywhere," Harrell said. "They run a check where they test the levels in, and outside of the room. They do a comparison check and find out what type of mold it is, and if it is outside of the normal environment. We did not find any evidence of mold."
They did, however find a couple of windowsills that were rotten, Harrell said. The rot was due to age and has been replaced. There was no evidence of mold growth. The state-certified inspector supplied the school board with a written document stating there was no evidence of mold found.
Complaints to the school board included outrage and questions regarding new carpet that was installed on top of the old carpet.
Harrell confirmed that new carpet was installed in 2007 on top of the existing, original carpet. He was unsure of when the original carpet was installed, and there was no record of the original installation date. He was not in charge at the time, but does suggest that if there was mold, they would have pulled it up.
"As for the original carpet, it was definitely time for it to go," Harrell said. "We're going to do samples. We're going to make sure that we don't have an issue."
Harrell explained the carpet had been glued to the hardwood floors of the building. Pulling up the carpet and milling the glue would have caused extensive damage to thefloor. So, the decision was made to place USG FIBEROCK, a mold-resistant cement board on top of the old carpet and attach the new carpet to the cement board.
"Things can be encapsulated," he said. "Mold has to have something to grow."
The school board said they were reviewing Chumuckla School's project file, looking for recorded maintenance issues regarding massive water damage lodged against the school. Harrell said they searched the files back to Hurricane Ivan and Dennis. He said there was nothing in the records that showed severe water damage.
"Nothing showed that we had to dry out the building," Harrell said. "If there was severe water damage, we would have done carpet replacements. Nothing had been listed on the project worksheet."
However, Chumuckla School did suffer roof and water damage, according to Harrell. The building suffered damage during one of the hurricanes and maintenance workers attached a temporary, blue roof. He said there was more water intrusion from where the blue roof had been screwed in and secured rather than the original damage.
"It was not of the magnitude that these people are saying," Harrell said. "There was very little there, during Ivan and Dennis."
Harrell says there is currently no plan of action one way or the other. Right now, the focus is on recognizing and verifying the current condition of the property, Harrell said.
"You don't automatically tear it down," he said. "That's kind of putting the cart before the horse."