Water leakage in G Building concerns teachers

Multiple TPHS teachers — whose classrooms are located in the G Building — have concerns about facility disrepair that has gone unaddressed for years, including possibly unclean carpets, water damage and possible mold in classrooms.

The Falconer obtained emails dating back to 2017 from G Building teachers regarding reports of “bad odors” in classrooms and concerns about the state of carpeting and heating, ventilation and air conditioning units, specifically related to the possible presence of mold.

TPHS Principal Rob Coppo confirmed this, saying he has received facility complaints for 15 years.

“With a site like Torrey … there are always problems like that,” Coppo said. “Every time there are fears of mold, there is a series of tests they do for it.”

When a facilities complaint is received by administration, a work order is filed with the district maintenance department, Coppo said. The district then sends a custodial supervisor to assess the issue, which could lead to district-funded repairs.

On Oct. 4, a mold sampling investigation was conducted in two G Building classrooms after complaints were received from teachers. The report, obtained by the Falconer from a teacher who asked to remain anonymous, found that there were “rare” and “rare-low” levels of mold detected in three locations: two samples from the carpet beneath ceiling tile stains and one from a tabletop. While Asst. Principal Tracy Olander, who oversees facilities, declined to comment, the report was forwarded to the two teachers by administration. The report recorded the client as SDUHSD and the location as TPHS in those two classrooms.

According to the report, “it is not uncommon to find mold/spore levels in surface swab samples ‘rare’ or ‘low’ within the interior of building spaces.” No recommendations were made in the report following the results.

However, such tests have produced similar results in the past, and according to some teachers, it has not been enough to address concerns.

French teacher Jessica Hunstberger, whose classroom is located on the lower floor of the G Building, received results from one of these tests in 2017 after issues with flooding and water damage. According to Hunstberger, custodial staff initially advised her to use a trash can to collect what she described as a “waterfall” in the corner of her room.

The mold test, according to emails from 2017, indicated no high levels of mold contamination or prevalent health concerns. After years of cold-like symptoms, Hunstberger described receiving those results as “like leaving the doctor when they tell you there is nothing wrong with you and you still feel bad.”

The mold concerns and reports of health issues — sinus infections and allergy-like symptoms including itching and burning eyes — have continued to amplify this school year, according to five teachers in the G Building. After the Oct. 4 mold test returned negative results, one teacher in the G Building who asked to remain anonymous conducted a third-party mold test independently on a ceiling panel from a G Building classroom on Oct. 11. It came back positive for mold. In the report obtained by the Falconer, mold — Mycelial Fragments, Cladosporium, and Stachybotrys — was deemed “abundant” in the teacher’s classroom. According to the Patriot Environmental Laboratory Services, the third-party environmental laboratory that conducted the study, certified “abundant” markers indicate greater than 10,000 mold spores found in the sample.

Those three “abundant” molds can cause health issues, such as nasal irritation, congestion, lightheadedness and mental fatigue, according to the National Institutes of Health.

According to the teacher who had the test conducted, this is the first such teacher-initiated mold test that has been done in the G Building.

The findings of the test correlate with many of the facilities’ issues and health concerns expressed by teachers this year. Multiple teachers in the G Building told the Falconer that ceilings have been leaking, resulting in the collapse of at least one ceiling tile in Spanish teacher Viviana Alvarado-Gomez’s classroom.

“At the time when I was placed there, the water would fall onto the top of my head, and it distracted me to the point where I had to move my seat,” Aaron Nayki, a student in Gomez’s class, said.

Business teacher Shannon Taylor has also experienced water leakage from an exposed pipe connected to her HVAC unit, which damaged her ceiling tiles over students’ desks. In response to her reports to administration, she said maintenance staff told her to “put a bucket under it.” In addition to that leakage, Taylor said she has experienced burning and itching eyes, allergy attacks, congestion and skin rashes while in her classroom, all of which she said she has communicated to administration.

On the second floor of the G Building, math teacher Kaitlin Hildebrand told the Falconer that there have also been water leaks and HVAC issues in her classroom, but that they were fixed two to three years ago.

Issues extend beyond the G Building. Brianna Milholland, an English teacher in the E Building, has reported HVAC issues to Logan Helm, TPHS school plant supervisor, over the years.

After a mass leak in the pod connecting four teachers’ classrooms in the E Building, Milholland initiated communication with Olander and Helm on Aug. 30 and continued to follow-up, but resolution of the issue was delayed despite repeated promises of help. Milholland said “[no] response is a response.” In waiting for a permanent solution, the teachers were advised to use buckets, making the pod unusable until repairs were eventually completed in October.

A teacher who asked to remain anonymous said “talking to administration feels like talking to a PR team.”

Sara Boozer, a teacher who was affected by the pod leak, was told by Coppo that the delay in fixing the leak was due to the short-staffed district maintenance. However, Coppo said in an interview that “the short staffing affects daily classroom cleanliness, not the timely manner in which water damage and mold complaints are handled.”

According to Taylor, SDUHSD Custodial Supervisor Javier Lopez told her that carpets in every classroom are cleaned every summer and air filters are changed in compliance with state law. Taylor’s damaged ceiling tiles have been replaced, air purifiers have been put in her class and her carpets were cleaned by Stanley Cleaners on Oct. 20.

Since then, Taylor said her allergies and sickness have declined. She is in the midst of confirming at least half a dozen more rooms with reported leaky ceilings to be cleaned by Stanley Cleaners in the winter. Taylor said she is “feeling hopeful of a future where the burden won’t fall on teachers to constantly follow up.”

Previous post Falcons fly the nest
Next post Pro/Con: Black Friday