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Tour of former Monongahela Elementary Center building reveals mold, physical damage

| Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

An unmistakable musty odor hits visitors as they walk inside Monongahela Elementary Center.

The first thing they see is mold growing throughout the 90-year old building.

Walking through the building Monday, Ringgold school board Vice President Bill Stein turned the corner into a familiar room to see mold rising up the wall to meet paintings of children.

“This was the cafeteria – yeah, kids ate in here,” Stein said.

Mold is also growing under the tile floor and up the side of a wall in the halls, causing lockers to rust. It is present in the carpets of the former computer lab. Mold and water damage has caused the paint to peel off the walls.

The building was the home of Monongahela High School until Ringgold High School opened in Carroll Township in 1979. The the building was converted to an elementary center before it was closed in 2011.

At the same time, the district closed Donora Elementary Center, the former Donora High School building, which had served the district since 1930. At one time, Ringgold considered a plan to reopen the buildings and renovate them for use as middle schools.

The board ultimately decided to pursue construction of a middle school at the Carroll Township site that houses the high school. That building would replace Ringgold Middle School — formerly Finley Middle School — which is shifting slightly because of pyrite beneath the surface.

The district expects the new middle school to be ready for the start of the 2017-18 school year.

The board recently authorized architect HHSDR to submit documents applying for funding under PlanCON.

PlanCon, short for Planning and Construction Workbook, is a set of forms and procedures used to apply for state reimbursement.

PlanCon forms are designed to document a school district's planning process, provide justification for a project to the public, ascertain compliance with state laws and regulations and establish the level of state participation in the project cost.

Based on its current aid ratio, the district could expect to receive nearly 61 cents on the dollar.

Reimbursement would come over 20 years, as the district makes its bond issue payments for the school.

Stein said last week the board's aim is to keep it in the $30 million range.

In the fall of 2012, HHSDR Architects/Engineers estimated costs to renovate MEC and DEC would be $17,412,000 and $15,708,000 respectively.

MEC and DEC are set to go on the auction block Aug. 19. Based on appraisals, they could fetch more than $220,000 combined.

But that sale could be challenged. Donora and Monongahela councils are considering filing petitions seeking an injunction to stop the sale of both elementary schools.

Monongahela Councilman Tom Caudill said no decision has been made on the possible injunction, but it will be discussed when the board meets next week.

At a council meeting last month, Caudill noted that he had served as principal at all three buildings during his administrative career with the district. But Monday night, Caudill admitted he hasn't been in MEC since it was converted to an elementary center in 1979.

Jim Dodd, a Donora resident who unsuccessfully ran for school board, implored both communities' councils last month to seek an injuction. He spoke of the condition of Ringgold Middle School and said MEC and DEC should be preserved for emergency use to house middle school classes.

But Stein said renovating the two buildings would take at least two years and be cost prohibitive.

At a board meeting in October 2012, William Hoffman, supervisor of facilities, acknowledged that work needed to reopen the two buildings would effectively gut DEC and MEC. Hoffman, who developed the laundry list of upgrades, said work at the two former elementary centers would be nearly identical and would include:

• Replacement of the roof.

• Replacement of all windows.

• Replacement of the HVAC system.

• Total replacement of the plumbing system.

• All new electrical upgrades.

• Upgrade kitchen to meet current health code requirements.

• Asbestos abatement.

• Complete floor tile replacement.

• Carpet replacement.

• Security improvements.

• Gym floor replacement.

• Repairs to the soffit and insulation of ceilings.

• Mold remediation.

• Concrete repairs.

• Limited plaster repairs.

• Masonry repairs, including rebuilding interior and exterior walls.

• Asphalt repairs.

• Replacement of all exterior doors.

• Technology upgrades to the phone system, data systems and computers.

• Americans with Disabilities upgrades, including enlarging some restrooms and installing an elevator.

Stein said the school board offered the buildings to Monongahela and Donora officials before putting them on the auction block.

“You can understand why communities are reluctant to take something on like this,” Stein said. “I wouldn't want to venture a guess what it would cost to take this building down.

“My directive would have been to tear them down from the start. This could have been a good site for a community park. It's a nice location.”

Ringgold School Board director Larry Mauro, who favored reopening and reusing DEC and MEC, said he has not been inside either building for a while.

“I understand there's a whole lot that would have to be done to make them usable,” Mauro said. “It seems like it was designed that way. A lot of things happened that would have been taken care of if those buildings were open.”

Mauro said he is realistic and believes the district and the board are moving toward new construction.

Stein is more succinct about the condition of MEC:

“I wouldn't let my dog in this building … it's not safe to be inhabited.”

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or