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South Jersey school closed because of mold set to reopen in January

Melanie Burney, Staff Writer

Updated: Monday, December 4, 2017, 6:14 PM

Monroe Township Superintendent of Schools Charles Earling speaks during an emergency school board meeting at Williamstown High School theater in Williamstown, N.J., on Oct. 6, 2017.

A South Jersey school that was abruptly closed in October after a mold infestation will reopen in January when students and staff return from their winter recess, district officials said.

Monroe Township School Superintendent Charles M. Earling notified parents in the Gloucester County district in a letter Thursday that classes will resume at Whitehall Elementary on Jan. 2, 2018. It was unclear when another school, Holly Glen Elementary, also shuttered since October because of mold, would reopen.

Earling did not respond to telephone and email messages Monday seeking comment. He was scheduled to meet with parents Monday evening at 7 p.m. at Williamstown Middle School to discuss plans to reopen Whitehall. The elementary school enrolls students in grades K-4.

In the letter to parents, Earling said the environmental firm TTI, of Moorestown, and AllRisk, a remediation company in Somerdale, which handled testing and remediation for mold and asbestos, would be available to answer questions about work that has been performed at the school. The superintendent also outlined a plan to return furniture and classroom items to Whitehall. Some classes and office spaces will be relocated and lunch times may be changed, he said. A reason for the changes was not given.

The cleanup will not be complete when the school reopens, the superintendent’s letter said. “For safety purposes, the main hallway of Whitehall will be sealed off with drywall and plastic sheeting to keep staff, students and visitors out of the area,” he said. The cafeteria cannot be used because classroom items will be stored there until remediation is completed, he said. Bag lunches will be served in the gym. Music and art classes will be held in the other half of the gym, while library and art classes will be held in the media center.

The district, which has 6,000 students, initially closed Holly Glen on Oct. 5 after mold was found throughout the building, including on ceiling tiles, flooring, walls, and furniture. A few days later, it closed its remaining five schools for inspection as a precaution.

The mold problem, according to some employees, had existed for years and was not comprehensively addressed despite complaints of excessive moisture and health ailments.

Teachers had complained they were dumping out classroom dehumidifiers once or twice a day because the moisture level was so high and said their concerns were ignored. After one teacher filed a complaint with the state health department, an inspection was ordered, and that led to the district-wide shutdown on Oct. 9

Four of the six district schools were eventually cleared to reopen and students returned on Oct. 18. Whitehall students were temporarily assigned to a section of Williamstown Middle School. Whitehall and Holly Glen have remained closed longer for a more extensive clean-up.

Officials said in October that Holly Glen would likely remain closed for at least three months for replacement of an HVAC system that is blamed for exacerbating mold contamination in the building. The school’s fourth graders were assigned to the high school, while students in other grades at the school were placed in Radix Elementary and Oak Knoll Elementary.

Melanie Burney, Staff Writer

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