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Fungus closes part of PHS vocational building

PRESCOTT – Just to be on the safe side, Prescott High School Principal Tim Carter has closed off two-thirds of the Vocational Building on campus because of a fungus, stachybotrys, in walls and ceilings.

"We do not believe a health hazard exists," he said Wednesday. "We are taking these steps only as a prudent precaution."

Carter immediately placed about 30,000 square feet of the building in containment, leaving the automotive lab and tool room open as usual.

His action affects a total of 125 students, four teachers and a speech therapist.

The school relocated their classes elsewhere on campus. The two Electronics classes went to the Aries Lab, Fire Science to Room 303, Nursing to Rooms 206 and 214, and Speech Therapy to the library.

Carter changed locks on the 26-year-old Vocational Building to secure the containment area. Southwest Hazard Control was to begin cleaning and removing contaminated debris today and finish the work by Oct. 26.

New construction should begin the next day and conclude by Oct. 31. Plans are to reoccupy the entire building by Nov. 1.

A new roof or major repairs to the metal corrugated roof and leaky skylights will also be necessary to halt the wet conditions that feed the fungus.

"The cost of the project is about $50,000 to remove the contamination," said Carter. "We do not know what the new construction cost will be or the cost of the roof repairs or replacement at this time."

The recent routine tests that located stachybotrys also found nigrospora under mats in the weight room. There is no immediate health risk there, Carter said. Southwest Hazard Control will clean that area with disinfectant over the fall break, Oct. 27 through 31. Completion of the new roof should prevent this problem from recurring, Carter noted.

Kathleen O. Frost, Western Technologies Inc. consultant, said stachybotrys "is all around us outside, but it shouldn't be indoors" in amounts found at numerous spots in the Vocational Building. That particular fungus also closed Yuma High School and buildings at various other Arizona schools while cleanups were under way, she said.

None of the teachers or students using the Vocational Building have reported any respiratory ailments, Frost said. Elsewhere, inhaling airborne stachybotrys in highly concentrated amounts has led to illness or even death in babies or the elderly, she noted.

The fungus thrives on water-damaged cellulose in buildings that have such materials as sheet rock, wallpaper and insulation backing materials.

Carter notified the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) and OSHA (The Occupational Health and Safety Administration) and received clearances for the abatement, Carter said. Western Technologies will monitor the work and complete post-abatement clean air sampling. Then it will report findings to the school, ADEQ and OSHA before the school reoccupies the sealed-off area.

Carter plans to ask the Arizona State Facilities Board for money to cover the cleanup.

"If that's not successful, we have contacted the Risk Retention Trust (insurance), and if absolutely necessary, we could use sale-of-property funds, if the Governing Board approves," he said.

For further information, call Carter at 445-2322.

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