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  1. Education

Mold confirmed in ducts, flooring at Largo charter school

LARGO — It lay under the hallway flooring and hung in classroom air ducts. And when revealed, it exuded a musty odor.

An 81-page report released Friday confirmed some faculty and parents' fears: Mold and particles that aggravate allergies have been found at Plato Academy Largo.

A consultant hired by the charter school deemed the indoor air quality as adequate and detected no imminent health concerns inside Plato Largo's modular building, which houses the middle school. Those moisture and mold problems "need prompt resolution to avoid potential long-term exposure." The word "prompt" was bolded in the report.

"Occupants with debilitated immune system or susceptible to house dust (including mold) should be encouraged to consult with their physician for advice," according to the report.

Steve Christopoulos, the CEO of Superior Schools, which manages Plato schools, said experts described the mold findings to him as "typical … found in just about every commercial building." He has hired Pure Air Control Services, which conducted and compiled the report, for $15,500 to clean the air ducts. That bill will be paid by the school. The report recommended further assessments before repairing the floors.

"They have inspected thousands of schools and they have found that particular building to be in much better condition," Christopoulos said.

Plato Largo, at 7100 142nd Ave. N, has about 350 students.

The report noted how the floor's moisture was "markedly elevated" throughout the building. When tiles were peeled up, they appeared "warped by the presence of moisture" and found "discoloration, mold growth and a strong musty smell." Inspectors found abnormal levels of mold in classroom air vents and floor tiles, as well as in the hallway.

Opaque particles, which "are significant from a health/allergy point of view, especially in the case of respiratory disorder," were found to be abnormally high on student tables.

The report said items with suspect mold growth were removed from the school at the time of the assessment, and supply air grilles had been thoroughly cleaned. The school installed dehumidifiers in response to experts' recommendations.

The governing board of Plato Largo ordered the test after many parents were not convinced that site visits conducted by the Pinellas County school district and the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas found no mold.

"I think if they respond properly to this report, things will be okay," said Rick Wolfe, the School District's charter school director.

Parents became incensed after photographs of dirty air vents and furniture were circulated within the first few days of the new school year. They pushed for an emergency board meeting to call for a mold inspection.

"I believe it was blown over proportion because of those photographs," Christopoulos said, which he believes were taken in the summer when the air conditioning was off.

Michelle Zamparelli said she refused to let her 13-year-old daughter, Shiloh, a Plato Largo eighth-grader, back into the middle school portables for nearly two weeks.

"Disgusted, but I'm not at all surprised," Zamparelli said. She said her daughter has complained about difficulty breathing. "I'm going to take her to the doctor to have her checked out."

She said she's looking for a new school for her daughter.

Christopoulos maintained that the school did everything it could to address and remedy the situation.

"I owe an apology to all the parents because perhaps there should've been better communication," he said.

Contact Colleen Wright at cwright@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright.

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