Mold issue forces Warwick elementary school to go remote, find temporary building

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WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — A mold crisis at the Sherman Elementary School in Warwick is so “widespread” that school officials are looking for a temporary building to move students and staff into for several months.

Lynn Dambruch, the district’s new superintendent, told 12 News the school’s 320 students will likely be learning remotely for about a month before they’re relocated.

“I was very disappointed the Sherman School would not be opening in person,” Dambruch said. “I am looing for another location. I would like to keep the Sherman School community together.”

Dambruch said they hope to announce the temporary location at a meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at Warwick Veterans Middle School.

Kevin Oliver, the head of facilities for the school district, said they noticed mold in the building two weeks ago and brought an outside company in to clean it.

“At that point we realized it was a widespread issue throughout the building,” Oliver said.

He also said they discovered outside air vents had been blocked off, likely in the early 1980s. They did not realize the scope of the mold problem until last Friday, according to Dambruch.

Asked if parents should be concerned that mold has been a long-running problem in the school that was just discovered, Oliver said they only spotted the mold recently and speculated the wet summer may have caused the problem.

“There were no physical signs of mold in the building previous to this summer,” Oliver said. “I’ve worked for the district to 30 years, to my knowledge we have not had any issues there prior to this one.”

Dambruch said she is hearing from parents who are upset at the situation.

“I think some parents have the understanding that we knew about this problem in June,” she said. “I found out last Friday that we had this problem. We have been running to find a solution to make kids, staff and parents comfortable for the school year.”

The school now needs a new HVAC system which could take months to install. Oliver said they are in the process of lining up vendors now.

“I want to apologize for any inconvenience this caused any family,” Dambruch added. “Safety is the most important thing to us — the safety of our students and staff — so we had to make this tough decision and its only a temporary one.”

Below is the letter sent out the school community Friday:

Dear Sherman Families,

We hope this email finds you well and thank you for your patience as we navigate through the challenges of opening Sherman School this year.

As most of you know by now, WPS has hired a mold remediation company to clean and purify the air/spaces at Sherman School. We have also taken some critical data, both before and after the cleanings to analyze the differences and work on next steps.

While we have seen a remarkable improvement in the numbers since the cleanings, the building is still not safe for occupancy, and unfortunately, this takes time.

With that being said, Sherman School students and teachers will begin distance learning on Wednesday, September 8, 2021. We know this is disappointing as we were looking forward to meeting our students in person this year, and it is a temporary solution. We assure you that we have been working diligently, coming up with plans to remediate this problem. Your child’s teacher will be communicating with you about joining Google classroom for distance learning.

Additionally, we would like to welcome you to a public forum with Sherman faculty and staff next Wednesday, September 8, 2021, at 6 p.m. at Warwick Vets Middle School. We will be sharing our next steps.

Again, we wish things were different, but have to think about student and faculty safety. The Sherman family is important to us! I am sure you are looking forward to meeting your teachers virtually via Google classroom on Wednesday morning.

We look forward to seeing you on Wednesday 9/8/21 at 6 p.m.

Sincerely,

Mrs. Patricia Cousineau
Director of Elementary Education

Mrs. Charlee McElroy
Principal, Sherman School

Tim White (twhite@wpri.com) is the Target 12 managing editor and chief investigative reporter at 12 News, and the host of Newsmakers. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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