MEMPHIS, Tenn. — WREG Investigators have uncovered new documents revealing just how bad the mold problem is at Peabody Elementary School.
Those documents also highlight some new safety issues that are coming to light.
On Aug. 30, Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration received this complaint stating Peabody Elementary in Midtown “has mold in all of the vents and the officials lie and say there is no mold. (it is literally visible to everyone).”
The complaint went on to state there is “no working fire alarm” and “no working intercom system,” which is how the school is “alerted for lock downs and other emergencies.”
“There have been lock down incidents but there is no way for the classroom to know so employees have not gone into lock down while the rest of the school has,” it read.
On Sept. 5, the state received another complaint reiterating the mold problem. It stated, “teachers and students are being exposed and a lot of them have been sick due to the mold.”
Through the Tennessee Records Act, we uncovered the letter the state sent to Memphis Shelby county schools asking them to investigate.
On Sept. 6, MSCS responded that an “inspection was conducted.” They found “extreme humidity” in some rooms and stated it would have a vendor come out “to address the system that is causing the moister (sic) and to address the drainage.”
They also said they would fix the intercom system and fire alarm.
Days later, the district announced students and staff would relocate to new schools mold was detected in vents and grates on the first floor.
In the vendor’s proposal, they outlined steps to fix the problem including repairs to the upper floor decking and structural sleepers, removal of all flooring and failing paint, and replacing ceiling grids, failing window panes and molded ductwork. The firm’s fee is listed as $185,000 based on a $2.25 million construction cost.
Work would begin in December.
Until that repair happens, the district stated it cannot fix the intercom and fire alarm since the building “has been completely closed off.”
On Friday, the district, which has said the mold is from recent storms, announced the school will remain closed through the rest of the school year.
In a statement sent Tuesday, MSCS officials said, “We’ve identified no major issues with the fire system. We provided walkie-talkies to employees as a contingency plan while intercom updates are underway. In August, Superintendent Williams asked the School Board to allocate $64 million in fund balance (our state-required savings account) for key updates including new intercom systems. The Superintendent and the School Board continue to advocate for additional funding to address $500 million in deferred maintenance so that students and staff will have the state-of-the-art schools they deserve.”
Peabody elementary’s building was constructed in 1909. It’s one of 33 schools in the district more than seven decades old.
WREG Investigators found out there are no indoor air quality regulations.
The county’s health department doesn’t regulate for mold either. TOSHA stated that it and federal agency OSHA do “not currently have a specific standard for indoor air quality. Fungi are present almost everywhere in indoor and outdoor environments.”
They added while “sampling methods have been developed,” Federal OSHA “has not established enforceable limits.”
We asked MSCS officials if it conducts regular mold inspections.
They replied, “We care deeply about the well-being of our students and staff. Under Interim Superintendent Williams, the District has developed plans to address matters as they are brought to the attention of our Facilities Team, significantly reducing response time. We develop contingency plans as needed and long-term solutions are implemented as soon as the School Board and County Commission allocate funding and resources are available.”
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