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School board OKs using up to $1M in federal stimulus funding to rent dehumidifiers

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School board members voted unanimously, 6-0, Tuesday afternoon to approve a request by the administration to amend an application to use up to approximately $1 million in federal stimulus funding for Covid-19 to rent dehumidifiers for school buildings that have been affected by mold contamination.

ABSS deputy superintendent Lowell Rogers recalled for school board members Tuesday afternoon that a suggestion had been made during one of several recent discussions with Alamance County’s commissioners about using the federal stimulus funding to cover costs for ongoing mold remediation, which he said had raised concerns for staff within the state Department of Public Instruction.

“They felt like it would be seen from the auditors that mold remediation was not due to Covid-19 and would be put into question,” Rogers told the board.

“We feel like this is a reasonable use of those funds” to use approximately $1 million to rent dehumidifiers for schools, Rogers said, “to make sure mold does not return and bring the humidity level down so it’s not at that level we’ve seen over the summer.”

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The proposal that board members unanimously approved Tuesday afternoon was to authorize Dr. Illana Dixon, director of federal programs for ABSS, to amend an application to use Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief (ESSER III), a portion of the federal Covid-19 stimulus relief funding that ABSS received, in order to rent dehumidifiers for schools during the months of September and October.  No specific contract was approved.

ABSS superintendent Dr. Dain Butler elaborated, “It’s important to know that, even though our buildings are very clean right now, this could come back” as a result of humidity, aging HVAC systems, roof leaks, and other types of water intrusion.  “Dehumidifiers, that’s very important; if we don’t have those, my fear is this could be back next week.”

Rogers said that the first two schools where mold was discovered – Newlin and Andrews elementary schools – have dehumidifiers that were supplied by the mold remediation company, Sasser Companies of Whitsett.  Other ABSS schools have dehumidifiers that have been supplied by Builder Services of Creedmoor, which had been hired to remediate mold at 30 other ABSS schools.

“They’re pulling water,” school board member Donna Westbrooks said during the discussion.  “I visited four schools yesterday, and they’re filling up fast.”

ABSS chief operations officer Greg Hook confirmed for The Alamance News Tuesday afternoon that MFM, which is the school system’s custodial services provider, has agreed to empty the dehumidifiers at each of the schools.

Hook described to the newspaper that the commercial-grade dehumidifiers are several feet wide by several feet high and equipped with drainage hoses.

School board members were told during their work session that ABSS is looking to rent, rather than purchase, the dehumidifiers as a short-term solution until other factors related to mold growth – such as roof leaks and HVAC systems – can be fully assessed.

“The quote I got was $3.5 million [to rent dehumidifiers] for the two months, September and October,” Rogers told the board.  “That was from Builder Services.”

Butler said Sasser is currently providing dehumidifiers for Andrews and Newlin, which he said is approximately “$200,000 or $300, 000,” adding that ABSS has “over 30 sites” that need them.  “It goes back, again, to how long do we need them,” the superintendent said, adding, “Our HVAC systems are running around the clock right now.”

Butler also pointed out that the administration intends to present a long-term plan for roofing and air quality improvements to the county commissioners.  “The reality is, this is not going to be fixed quickly,” he said.  “We are going to have to look at some temporary solutions to covering our roofs.”

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