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Schools Delayed: Mold, Air Quality Issues Postpone Beginning Of School For Thousands Of Area Students

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- First mold in the Pine-Richland School District, and then in the Plum Borough School District too.

Now, it's Shaler Area High School, which was supposed to open Aug. 29, but is now delayed until Tuesday, Sept. 4.

But Shaler is hardly alone with these issues. Poor air quality, even mold, it seems to be happening in a lot of school districts these days.

So what's going on with the HVAC systems that control air quality in a building? And why are they discovering these problems just a few days before school starts?

Scott Lynch teaches heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC, to students at the Pittsburgh Technical College, and he says a number of factors could be in play.

"Equipment, of course, has to be maintained properly," Lynch told KDKA money editor Jon Delano on Tuesday. "And [it] has to be run even year-round in order to keep the air quality the same year-round."

Shutting down HVAC in school buildings for the summer can create problems. But a bigger problem is the humid, muggy and wet weather this summer, ideal conditions for mold.

"As the warm moist air goes up against the cold bottle," says Lynch, holding up a cold water bottle, "then, of course, the moisture in the air will condense out and cause the condensation to develop around the bottle and so on. And, so, you have a moist condition where mold and mildew and other conditions can begin to take place."

And nothing beats an annual HVAC check-up.

Lynch: "Make sure that the duct work is clean, and the coils are clean, and it's well-maintained, and you have sufficient fresh air brought in."

Delano: "And to do it earlier in the summer?"

Lynch: "Yes, absolutely."

Back in Shaler, school officials, on Monday, sent an email to students and parents telling them there was a concern over air quality, but the high school was opening on time on Wednesday, Aug. 29. Twenty-four hours later, they had a different story.

"Obviously, I'd like to start right now," said senior Monte Miller, of Reserve.

"Actually, kind of surprised. I was ready to go back," noted senior Madison Donovan, of Shaler.

KDKA's Jon Delano Reports:


In a letter on Tuesday, school Superintendent Sean Aikin and high school Principal Timothy Royall wrote:

"[A]ir quality levels are in normal and acceptable ranges in all but two rooms in the high school; [sic] however, upon further review and consideration, the district wishes to exercise extreme caution and has made the difficult decision to delay the start of school until Tuesday, Sept. 4, for high school students only."

Neither the superintendent nor the high school principal would go on camera to explain exactly what was going on.

But students had plenty to say.

"It's kind of annoying because they had like weeks to go over the rooms and stuff," said Molly Malachow, of Shaler. "They said that only two rooms had mold in them, and they were closed and everything should be safe, so I don't know why are waiting an extra week."

Mold seems to be the problem, say the students.

"I heard there was mold in the air ducts basically," said Donovan.

"It is mold, so we shouldn't be in there," student Maiz Wohlegmuth said.

Wohlgemuth and her volleyball teammates were told to remove their volleyball equipment.

"We had to get our volleyball things. We are moving to the middle school for our practice," she added.

Practice, but no classes until next Tuesday.

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