Summer Flooding Causes Surface Mold Infestation

by Isabella Pilot ‘18

On July 29, a large storm dumped more than five inches of rain in Sandy Spring and subsequently flooded Sherwood. While the flood damage was cleaned up immediately, mold growth was later noticed in the building throughout the month of August, leaving teachers, parents, and students wondering if it would be safe to return to school on time.

The flood originated in the courtyard due to a dated drainage system. From there, flood water entered various classrooms in the downstairs art hall. “Building services cleaned the flood damage, but what was found afterwards was surface mold,” said Principal Bill Gregory.

The photography room appeared to be the source of the mold growth, and after further examination it was found throughout the art hallway and in one upstairs room. “One of the classrooms above the flooded areas had quite a bit of mold. It was the little theatre [G236], where we have carpeting, and the carpeting was all removed and replaced with tile,” said Gregory.

Later in August, during preservice week, mold was noticed in additional classrooms. “As staff started to hear what was going on, more and more people were pointing out mold in their classrooms. It was kind of like an epidemic,” said teacher and head of the arts department Angela Praisner. Mold was found mainly on keyboards and fabric chairs.

“It didn’t cause a need to close the building, but some rooms were closed off to be cleaned,” said Gregory.

This cleaning was performed by Rolyn, a mold remediation contractor hired by MCPS, and from there a third party industrial hygienist, Hillmann Consulting, was brought in to conduct air sampling and visual inspection. “Rolyn spent hours and hours cleaning the building. Teams of 30 to 40 people were cleaning off every single thing [in the classrooms],” said Praisner. MCPS even hired a contractor to come in and clean electronics. “They would open up computers and make sure there wasn’t any mold inside,” said business manager Linda Berkheimer.

While various sports teams and staff members were in the building during August, those people were cautioned to stay in designated areas. “We asked sports teams to stay in the locker rooms and the gym because those areas were cleared,” said Berkheimer. As far as staff, those whose rooms were contaminated could work in the media center until given the green light. Gregory said that aside from the rooms under containment, “the building was absolutely safe.” There were no reports of reactions or irritation due to the growth.

Hillmann’s sample results from August 27 showed that, after remediation, there was no apparent mold growth in the affected areas, and by August 28, all teachers were able to once again occupy their classrooms.

This damage has led to much speculation over the recurring issue of mold growth in Sherwood and the dangers of turning off the A/C during summer months. “ I think all of us as teachers are concerned that mold could be internally somewhere in the building,” said Praisner.

“The solution is to run the dehumidifiers all summer, and/or air conditioners. Of course, that’s outrageously expensive, so nobody wants to do that,” said Environmental Science teacher Laura Dinerman.

The courtyard has flooded before, but Sherwood has never seen damage quite this bad. “We are called Sandy Spring for a reason. I don’t know if Sherwood is built directly on the spring, but it feels like it sometimes because it’s always so moist here,” said Praisner. Dinerman also commented on the location of the school in relation to the mold, saying, “if you want to avoid flooding, don’t build on a swamp.”

From James Song, the Director of Facilities Management, all the way to Superintendent Jack Smith, members of MCPS central office visited Sherwood and worked around the clock to ensure that no one was harmed by the mold. “The school system committed to finding the root cause of the issue. Part of it is the drainage, but they’re also looking at heating in the building. It’s an older building and they’re ensuring that everything is up to code and safe for students. That was a promise,” said Gregory.