Some Schools May Be Health Hazards

School boards and parents are discovering that schools they labored hard to raise money to build in the last 10 years or so are subjecting their children to mold and indoor air quality problems.

Many of these problems can be attributed to choices made in building materials. Some materials provide a ready food source for mold. Roof leaks, wall leaks, window leaks or plumbing failures have even led to the destruction of materials installed to protect the buildings.

These observations are at the heart of a new book called “Are You Building a School or a Liability?” written by Chris Huckabee and Kyle Montgomery and published by the Brick Industry Association, the Masonry Contractors Association of America and the National Concrete Masonry Association. The book calls attention to a serious problem with school buildings.

“The use of porous and paper-based products as the substrate of an exterior wall system has given rise to many, if not most, of the mold-related issues that building owners face today. These products are destroyed by mold. In fact, the mold actually consumes this material as a food source,” said the authors.

Huckabee is a well-known Texas architect who has built more than 1,000 schools. Montgomery is the executive director of the Texas Masonry Council. Together, they recommend the use of materials that are “forgiving.”

A forgiving material, according to Huckabee and Montgomery, is a material that is not destroyed by moisture. They also argue in favor of redundant construction in which wall systems are designed and constructed to direct moisture from inside the building to outside.

“Are You Building a School or a Liability?” presents several case studies where masonry was the solution to serious mold problems in schools. Huckabee and Montgomery note that concrete masonry block is a material that can be cleaned and dried easily and will not be destroyed by mold.

Huckabee and Montgomery cite case studies where gypsum-based interior walls of schools were replaced with concrete block in areas of high moisture probability. In one case, all exterior walls were demolished and replaced with a masonry wall system that included a masonry wall backup. They call this approach “total masonry construction.”

School boards, parent groups and architectural firms specializing in school building construction can obtain free copies of “Are You Building a School or a Liability?”