October 25, 2012
Sewage came spewing out of a water fountain in a classroom annex at Bluford STEM Academy, an elementary school on Tuscaloosa Street in Greensboro, on Wednesday, Oct. 17, according to school board member Amos Quick.
Sewage also began pouring into the hallway of the classroom annex from a brass-lidded sewage cleanout on the floor.
Quick said that, in addition to the sewage spill, Bluford has water leaks in its classroom annex and in its basement. Bluford has cracks in its walls that have let water into the basement where brick walls meet the foundation of the main building, although those have been caulked.
Guilford County Schools has been leery of potential environmental issues in schools since 2009, when the school system had to evacuate Oak Ridge Elementary School students to two other Guilford County schools and Oak Ridge Military Academy for seven months because of moisture and mold problems.
The school system spent more than $1.5 million to relocate the students and to test and remediate Oak Ridge Elementary, including $24,400 a month the school system paid Oak Ridge Military Academy for rent for seven months.
No one is saying that Bluford has a mold problem. But moisture and organic materials are the necessary conditions for mold.
Quick, who is angry about the extent to which Bluford has been allowed to deteriorate, said, "I don't want to use that term [mold] not knowing the exact condition, but I can tell you all the ingredients are there."
Quick represents District 9, which includes Bluford.
The Guilford County Schools Maintenance Department responded quickly to the Oct. 17 water and sewage leaks. They stopped the leaks and, according to Guilford County Schools Maintenance Director Gerald Greeson, brought in industrial hygienist Dennis Forbis of S&ME Inc. to test for hydrogen sulfide, a trace element of sewage that indicates contamination.
Greeson said the school now tests clean for sewage, and that basement tests show 69 degrees and 48 percent relative humidity. He said the Maintenance Department does not like to see relative humidity higher than 50 percent, which puts the Bluford basement at the high end of the acceptable range. Greeson said there is no mold in the basement.
Those efforts are temporary responses that won't solve the long-term problem.
The sewage that Quick said was coming out of the water fountain has been stopped, and the foundation leak in the main building has been patched, but the cracks in the cinderblock walls of the classroom annex are untouched, and the foundation cracks in the main building need a permanent fix.
On Tuesday, Oct. 23, a workroom in the annex still contained a waist-high fan workers used to dry the sewage in the hallway.
Greeson said the backup that caused the sewage spill was caused by teachers or students pouring milk down sinks in classrooms.
"We had a backup in the sewer," he said. "The best we could tell was it looked like we had poured milk down in the drain in the sinks. What that does if you don't clean it up is it cultures and backs up the sink."
Greeson said the sewer leak in the hallway isn't unusual. He said, "That's typical with all that pressure."
Bluford has a large single-room basement that was used for student activities under the elementary school's previous principals, and several basement rooms that had been used as classrooms.
Quick said the current principal, Gradesa Lockhart, who took over in July 2012, decided that the basement wasn't safe for students to use – both because it was damp and because a central hallway in the basement did not meet the current fire code.
The basement is now a crowded storage area.
Greeson said, "We do have water intrusion in the wall in one classroom."
Watermarks are clearly visible on the ceiling and walls of that room.
Greeson said the school system stopped the school from using the basement because the hallway doesn't meet code and might not allow students to escape fast enough during a fire.
"In 1992, that basement was redesigned to create in that front area a multipurpose room," Greeson said. "Those three back rooms were designated for storage space, not occupancy. I guess, from my perspective, it's not designed to be classroom space."
That doesn't explain why the multipurpose room, which has exit doors to the outside, is no longer in use.
Until recently, students left the building through the basement so they could pick up materials for the ACES after-school program that were stored there. Quick said even that has stopped, and not just because of fire concerns.
Quick said, of the basement, "Right now, it is not in use, because of some concerns about air quality."
Greeson said that, during summer, when air in the basement is hot and humid, the Bluford basement doesn't have proper air exchange. He said the school system had a pre-bid meeting for installation of a new air-exchange unit for the school on the same day as the sewage leak. He said, "And that's just an abundance of caution."
Guilford County School Superintendent Mo Green has, in his two four-year strategic plans for the school system, a long-term goal of ensuring that all Guilford County public schools have at least an equal baseline of facilities, equipment and supplies – and recent examples, including Bluford and Allen Jay Elementary School in High Point – are evidence as to why.
In August, Allen Jay's roof sprung leaks and the Maintenance Department had to hang up Rube Goldberg water-collection devices to drain the water outside the building. Employees fear that Allen Jay, and now Bluford, show potential to be the next Guilford County Schools environmental disasters. There are probably other schools that have been allowed to deteriorate similarly.
"Please do not use my name because I would surely be fired," an Allen Jay employee wrote The Rhino Times in August. "But this is happening to many schools. We have carpets and computers being ruined, from terrible drippings off of the roof. Nurses office, music room, and [the] kinder room … windows are rotted. Termites are eating walls down, in [the] library, and classrooms."
Quick said parents at schools in affluent communities get action because they have active PTAs that scream bloody murder when a roof starts leaking or a water fountain drain starts spouting human excrement, but that the school board seems less driven to fix problems in schools with less active PTAs.
Greeson denied that sewage was coming out of the water fountain. "That wouldn't be possible," he said.
Quick said that he doesn't normally hear a lot from Bluford parents – but that the current environmental problems have brought them out.
"I have been bombarded, and Bluford is not one of these schools whose parents will bombard you," he said. "But they have, relatively speaking, bombarded me on this situation."
Quick is often a team player on the school board. But he's an ardent supporter of schools in District 9. Quick was recently ordained as a minister and works at New Light Missionary Baptist Church, across the street from Bluford. Even before his ordination, he had a touch of Old Testament prophet about him, and never hesitated to pound the dais at school board meetings and bewail the neglect of District 9 schools. But he usually works with the school board, rather than attacking it....continued on page 2