Meridian School District got more bad news last week when the Illinois Department of Labor confirmed that there are dangerous levels of mold in the district’s elementary school.
During a special meeting July 8, Meridian School Board decided to allow the sale of school bonds, a method of borrowing money from local investors. The bonds would be paid back like a loan at a low interest rate. However, because of district policy, the board can only borrow so much. Janet Ulrich, regional superintendant of schools and interim district superintendent, said the district is only able to borrow $1.625 million. This would put the district at the low end of the $1-3 million it has been estimated to cost for the district to fix the mold issue.
Ulrich said no decision has been made as to how the district will move forward with resolving the mold problem but she said it is the board’s goal to keep the school start date of Aug. 12
“They intend to strive for that date,” Ulrich said. She clarified, however, they are not clear yet how they will meet that goal. If the building is safe for students to reenter by the time school starts, she said that is the best option however there was talk of erecting temporary structures to hold class in, in the interim. She also said the Board discussed doing a split schedule where the high school building would be split between elementary and high school students, with each group getting access for five hours each day. While this would not be ideal, this schedule would still put them one hour above the state require four hours of instruction time. If this is the decided route, Ulrich said teachers would break down their lesson plans to core essentials so students would still be taught necessary skills and would not fall behind.
Ulrich said the process has been a slow one because the district is not sure where the money will come from.
“Decisions are being held because of the funding issue,” she said. The state has not committed to providing the district with any emergency funding. Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg) has vowed to help Meridian in any way he can. He could not be reached for comment for this report.
During routine maintenance to the elementary school in June, workers found large areas of mold in the walls of the school. Architect Bob Huff was called in to assess the situation. His tests came back positive for high levels of dangerous mold. He said while the mold had not yet gone airborne, it was only a matter of time and that the district needed to find a solution to the problem before students could return to the building in the fall.
— Isaac Smith can be reached at (618)-734-4242