Employees return to Education Center after mold scare

By Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, June 6, 2013

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T Department of Diné Education employees received the go-ahead Wednesday to return to the Navajo Education Center.

An official from the tribe's Department of Facilities Maintenance recommended reopening the section of the building that houses DODE after it underwent a cleaning process since its temporary closure last week after mold spores were found.

The building was closed May 29 after an employee complained about breathing problems associated with the building's air quality.

The recommendation to reopen, along with details about the results of mold testing and the cleaning process, were shared during a meeting between DODE employees and personnel from the facilities management department, the Safety and Loss Control Program, and the Office of Environmental Health.

Wilfred Keeto, senior safety technician with the Safety and Loss Control Program, explained that the building was cleaned after initial testing and the preliminary report indicated the presence of mold.

The amount of mold was nowhere as high as that detected in Administration Buildings No. 1 and No. 2, he said then added that officials are still waiting for the final report.

"When you go back to your work stations, don't expect it to be spic-and-span," Keeto said. "These guys did what they can with what they have."

As an added measure, employees were advised to clean their work areas by using damp cloths, disinfectant sprays or wipes. The cleaning crew wiped down walls, doors, doorknobs and surfaces in areas that were accessible, said Facilities Management Department Manager Marcus Tulley, adding that they also cleaned air vents and light covers and replaced damaged or water-stained ceiling tiles.

Keeto noted that vent covers were dirty and some were brown and black. The vents were washed but a thorough cleaning of the air duct system would need to be scheduled with a professional.

During the cleaning process, crewmembers noticed that some offices had no air circulation because the occupant had either closed the air vent or taped it shut, Keeto said. Vents that were closed were reopened because it is important for air to circulate to reduce the potential for bacteria and mold growth, he said.

Arbin Mitchell, President Ben Shelly's Chief of Staff, said not enough money is allocated to maintain the tribe's aging buildings.

With negotiations starting for the fiscal year 2014 budget, he would like tribal officials to think about maintaining and fixing these buildings.

"Since I became chief of staff, I've been saying that a lot of times we forget to put monies into fixed cost, maintaining these buildings," he said. "So this time around hopefully we can put enough money to maintain these buildings."

Another strain for the facilities maintenance department is paying for the remediation and renovation of the closed administration buildings, Mitchell said.

In an interview after the meeting, Tulley said the education center was constructed in 1986 and continues to operate the same cooling system installed at that time.

A contractor did examine the cooling system to see how much it would cost to convert to an HVAC system, he said then added that the heating system was upgraded to a boiler system last December.

Meanwhile, Administration Buildings 1 and 2 remain closed because of mold found in them in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

Erny Zah, communications director for the Office of the President and Vice President said a sealed bidding process opened June 3 for the renovation of Administration Building No. 1 while the design work has been completed for Administration Building No. 2.

Neither building has an estimated reopening date at this time, he said. Contact Noel Smith at nsmith@navajotimes.com or at 928-871-1139.