Starke Elementary closed because of mold
Published: Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 3:41 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 3:41 p.m.
Starke Elementary School in Bradford County has been closed because of concerns over mold and fungus, and Wiles Elementary School experienced some flooding on Thursday, although classes will resume Friday at Wiles.
Bradford Schools Superintendent Chad Farnsworth announced the closure of Starke Elementary in a letter to parents on Thursday.
Students will resume classes in alternate locations on Sept. 3, Bradford schools spokesman Brian Graham said.
"We are trying our best to make the best of a bad situation," he said.
Meantime, in southwest Gainesville, Wiles Elementary Principal Barbara Buys said the rain and wind picked up at about 1:30 p.m. Thursday, just before the 1:45 p.m. dismissal time. The National Weather Service issued a flood warning at that time for Alachua County.
As teachers and staff were leading children to the front of the school to be picked up by their parents, water started rushing in the front door of the main office building.
Buys said the weather was too bad to stand outside the school with the children, so teachers moved students into the media center and the technology lab.
Water stood about three inches deep at its highest in the carpeted hallways.
"It was squishy," Buys said. "That's a lot of water that just came rushing in."
No one was hurt and teachers and staff managed to get every child where he or she was supposed to go.
It normally takes 15 to 20 minutes to get all of the students on buses or into their parents' cars, but on Thursday it took about an hour, Buys said.
The school district sent Servpro, the water damage cleanup company, to the school to pump the remaining water out and put up sandbags to protect the school's vulnerable areas.
As of Thursday evening, although it was still raining, Buys said Wiles will open as usual Friday morning.
Starke Elementary, however, will not be open Friday.
The school was built 16 years ago and has experienced intermittent mold issues ever since, Graham said Thursday.
An increasing number of issues this summer led to Superintendent Chad Farnsworth ordering an air quality check.
The district received the results on Thursday, which stated that due to the level of mold and fungi, the school buildings should not be occupied.
"In an abundance of caution ... we will not have these buildings occupied," Graham said.
Starke Elementary's roughly 500 students in prekindergarten through fifth grade were sent home with a letter Thursday informing parents the school would be closed starting Friday.
In the letter, Farnsworth asked parents of children who were originally zoned for nearby Southside, Lawtey, Hampton or Brooker elementary schools to return to those schools immediately.
Over the next week, Graham said, the district will find alternate locations to resume classes for the rest of the children.
"Right now it's difficult to tell where they're going to be," he said, although the district is in contact with two large churches, which already have classrooms set up for their Sunday school.
Transportation will be sorted out in the coming week as well, Graham said. District officials will keep parents updated by phone, mail, email and through the Bradford County Schools website at BradfordSchool.org or at www.Facebook.com/EducateBradford.
Architects and engineers arrived at the school Thursday to start evaluating the mold problem and developing a permanent solution.
There is no estimate yet on when Starke Elementary will reopen. Graham said the process could take a few weeks or the whole school year — "Whatever it takes."
Past solutions, he said, "for too long (have) been a Band-Aid on these situations ... We're trying to do it right."
Contact Erin Jester at 338-3166 or firstname.lastname@example.org.