Mold issue closes Lincoln School gym and cafeteria

Jamie Ausk Crisafulli
Sunday, August 22, 2021
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Mold remediation in the Lincoln Elementary School gymnasium over the summer resulted in the discovery of other costly issues at the school. The Glendive Unified School Board voted to make the quickest and least expensive fix to the problem in order to make the space usable for students as soon as possible, but acknowledged that the ongoing water issues will have to be addressed in the future. Glendive Public Schools photo

Mold remediation in the Lincoln Elementary School gymnasium resulted in an even bigger project this summer, impacting the use of the gymnasium for physical education and lunches the first weeks of school.

The Glendive Unified School Board unanimously approved the quickest and least costly fix to the problem at its special meeting Monday, but not before acknowledging a better fix must be part of a future plan.

“It seems like this kind of snowballed over the past month or so. This is what we know right now, what’s not ruled out is something popping up and making it worse,” GUSB Chairman Mike Ziegler said.

Going with the quickest and easiest plan doesn’t necessarily rule out the long-term solution, Ziegler noted, adding it just gets the facility ready for students sooner this school year.

Remediation of mold as a result of water leaking into the walls at Lincoln School began this summer. It was discovered the mold was isolated to the general area of the roof drains.

According to Glendive Schools Facilities Director Rhett Coon, the roof drains on a flat roof are integrated into the roofing system and also serve as a fire stop and are part of fire code. He said the original plan was to replace the drains and leave the old roof intact.

However, as required by law, the plumbing contractor obtained a mechanical permit from the State of Montana. Once the State Mechanical Inspector visited the project on Aug. 10, “it was stated that we could not touch the roof drains or waste drains, unless we brought everything up to current state code. This meant new drains, new roof and possibly ADA compliance in the bathrooms in the gymnasium,” Coon wrote in his report to the board.

The discovery put the project on hold until a board decision on how to move forward was made.

“We had to stop everything to see if we’re going to fix or if we’re just going to take care of it enough to get some of this stuff working. None of the options are good, in my opinion,” Superintendent Stephen Schreibeis told the board at Monday’s meeting.

Coon presented three options to the GUSB this week. Two of those involved placing a new roof on Lincoln, both expensive and time consuming, although pricing estimates were unavailable before Monday’s meeting. One option was to replace the flat roof as is, the other was to add trusses to create a sloped roof.

Coon recommended the board go with a third option, more of a temporary fix, that will allow the district to use the gym more quickly.

The plan includes refinishing the walls in the gym and bathrooms but not making any repairs to the roof, roof drains or waste drains, although a few minor repairs on waste drains are allowed per state inspector). As a result, the building will not be brought up to code, but was approved by the state inspector as a fix for the immediate problem.

Most of the cost of the reconstruction will be covered by insurance and the gymnasium area is expected to be ready for use in the next few weeks.

As a result the ceiling would remain open and unfinished exposing the roof drains. Coon noted that will allow school staff to place buckets, towels, and drainage under the roof drains each time it rained or snowed.

The biggest area for leaks are the corridor into the gym from inside the school. Another area that leaking regular occurs is the kitchen store room, according to Coon.

Lincoln Principal Cindie Togni noted that buckets used in those areas in the past have taken care of the water problem.

Former Lincoln physical education teacher Linda Cunningham said the water issue at the school has been an issue for years.

“I taught there for 14 years and sometimes it would rain and we would have up to 20 buckets in the gym, in the equipment room,” Cunningham said.

Other downfall of the option will be added inspections, maintenance, and leak watch that would be needed to be performed by custodians and staff and the possibility of new mold and water damage.

According to Coon, the state inspector said students could not be allowed to use the gymnasium or the adjacent bathrooms until the walls stripped during the remediation were re-sheetrocked and all the outlets covered.

Togni told board members that as school began this week, the plan was to have students eat in their classrooms. An average of 10 students per classroom take advantage of the school’s lunch program. Those student would go through the lunch flow to pick up lunches in the hallway while students who brought lunches from home would remain in the classroom at that time.

“We do have a plan, but we would like it to be more temporary,” Togni said.

PE classes will also create challenges.

Students will go outside to PE as weather permits, but when the weather changes, PE classes will be held in a large classroom.

“They won’t be able to do any running around or anything. They can do some exercising and ball games, but we don’t have a large space for them to actually play,” Togni said.

Earlier this month, Coon had good news to share with the GUSB: the asbestos on the project was less extensive than school officials were originally led to believe. This allowed the district to move forward without asbestos abatement in the gymnasium.

For his part in the project, Coon has been designing, planning, pricing and locating all materials for the reconstruction project at LES as well as another project at DCHS.

“Materials are either impossible to find or if they can be found, they are inflated prices beyond economical. This is also helping attract contractors to bid the projects as they do not have the time to research and find alternative products,” Coon noted in a board report in August.

Another area of concern that was discovered during the end of the mold inspection was extreme evidence of termites in the southeast corner of Lincoln (by the PE teacher’s office and SE gym entrance). EcoLab is working on an estimate to exterminate the infestation, according to Coon.

Reach Jamie Ausk Crisafulli at