Unused, Stockton school develops mold

By Fran Gonzalez | Oct 04, 2018
Photo by: Fran Gonzalez Mold has been discovered in the Stockton Springs Elementary School, pictured July 16, adding another layer of complexity about future of the building.

Stockton Springs — Mold has been discovered inside the vacant Stockton Springs Elementary School.

Regional School Unit 20 Superintendent Chris Downing told the Board of Directors Sept. 26 that workers investigating an alarm at the school earlier this summer noticed an odor, later discovered to be mold growing inside the former school.

It's been more than a year since the elementary school in Stockton Springs closed its doors to all activities. Voters approved shuttering the mostly unused building in April 2017, after a pre-K program there was relocated Searsport Elementary School.

Since then, "the building has had reduced heat and air flow," Searsport Director Anthony Bagley said, adding, "It's also built on a cement slab with no vapor barrier," which added to the mold proliferation.

In July, Downing said the school remains "under the control of the school board."

The building this summer was cleared to host public and municipal functions once more. However, school officials have not yet created procedures for use of the building or approved structural improvements — including boiler and sprinkler updates — that are needed before the doors can open for events.

The insurance company representing RSU 20 sent a field adjuster and an industrial hygienist to investigate the mold problem and come up with recommendations and estimated remediation costs, according to Downing.

RSU 20 Building, Grounds and Transportation Director Russ Flagg said during the Sept. 26 meeting that it appears the mold is spreading.

"When I went through the building with the industrial hygienist, it looked like the mold had grown even more," he said.

"It was bad inside the building ... with the system going. The walls felt damp. It was humid outside and it was humid inside the building."

Like most schools in Maine, there is no air conditioning. To circulate air inside the closed building, a system known as an "air handler," which mixes outside air with inside air, was being used, Flagg said.

"Their biggest concern was to define the cause," Flagg said, "which would let us know if the insurance companies would cover it or not."

Downing said Oct. 2 he is waiting for the insurance company's report, which will outline expected remediation costs and suspected cause of the mold.

The school was built in the late '70s, Flagg noted, with few to no windows. Most of the windows were added later, he said.

"You would think (in) a building with no windows, the ventilation would be better, but you're talking back in 1977," he said.

Talk then shifted to selling the building.

"What is the intention of the board?" Bagley asked. "We're going on two years spending money on a building we don't know what we're going to do with.

"Yes, it's only $47,000 (a year) — it's going to be $94,000 in a few months — (that means there are) 523 kids in Searsport having $94,000 taken out of their education to just barely keep a building going."

Stockton Springs Director Denise Dakin wondered if "either town talked about taking over the building jointly as a community center."

Downing replied, "No one has approached me directly and my door is always open."

Bagley said, "You don't have to give it to them. After the Frankfort (Elementary School) deal, I'm not one to give the town a building, for the town to turn around and sell it for $100,000 profit."

"...I would like to recoup some of the money we've put into this all ready," he said.

Searsport Director Gerald French said, "What we're offering (to the towns) is a great big question mark."

Bagley replied, "What is the board willing to pay to sell it to someone? I don't think either town will consider buying a building in this condition."

He said if the air handler is running 24/7 and there is still moisture on the walls, perhaps the system is inadequate.

Downing said, "I am going to approach this as the law is written and use that as my guidance," referring to school sale conditions created by the Maine Legislature.

The Maine Revised Statutes website (Title 20A, section 4103, 4) says the school board may sell the school in the open market if it determines it has no future use of the building and has offered to transfer ownership to the municipal officers of the towns in which the building is located and if the municipal officers have not accepted the transfer of ownership.

If the school board is unable to sell the building on the open market after a reasonable period not to exceed two years, then it may attempt to sell the building through sealed bids.

"If the board no longer wants to maintain the building," Downing said, "then you approach the towns. They both have an equal stake in the school."

Searsport and Stockton Springs are the only member towns of RSU 20.

Dakin said, "I don't want to offer it to one without offering it to the other. They are equal owners."

Downing said he would approach the town managers "and have a conversation and hopefully have the report before the meeting." 

French noted another issue that could factor into the board's decision: "When we have public participation at board meetings, (I wish) that somebody was actually here at the meeting to ask questions because I don't do my business over Facebook.

"This is where people need to come to ask questions," he said. "Right now we have absolutely zero members of the public."

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