Officials Explain Relocating Sarah Zumwalt Middle School

Dallas School officials explained the details on Friday behind relocating Sarah Zumwalt Middle School in January to escape mold.

Around 430 students and three dozen teachers will resume classes after the holiday break at nearby Maceo Smith High School to allow for major renovation and remediation at the middle school, built in 1958, on East Ledbetter Drive and Veterans Drive.

Parent Wateria Newman was waiting outside Zumwalt Friday to take her son to a doctor appointment. She blames mold for his illness.

“My son would come home from school for months telling me that his chest was hurting," Newman said. "He would even call me from school complaining of chest pain."

Alliance AFT Teachers Union leader George Rangel said teachers have health worries, too.

“There’s been some symptoms with illnesses and allergies and stuff like that," Rangel said. "So, we have heard some concerns."

Next week, students and teachers will return for several more days of class at Zumwalt before the holiday break.

“It’s what we would term an unhealthy building, but we don’t believe it poses any high levels of danger to any of the students or staff that occupy the building,” said Dallas ISD Chief Operating Officer Scott Layne.

Special ventilation equipment was running on Friday to remove moisture. Some portions of the Middle School were also sealed off.

Back in February, the principal’s office and three classrooms were closed because of another bout with mold.

“We remediated those areas,” said Dallas ISD Environmental Health and Safety Director Christopher Gray. “So those concerns were addressed Mid-March. What we’re dealing with now is new data, different areas than there were in the spring.”

Groundwater runoff entering the building crawl space and an old steam heating system make the building too moist, ideal for the growth of mold, Layne said.

“It changes from day to day in the building and rather than continue to deal with that situation, we feel like from a cautionary measure, it’s better to move the kids out and let’s get this problem addressed once and for all,” Layne said. “Our overall plan is to go ahead and move forward with the renovation that was planned in the 2015 bond program.”

The $5.8 million Zumwalt project includes new ventilation and land contours to keep groundwater out of the crawl space, new hot water heating instead of steam, a new roof, new windows and other improvements.

Maceo Smith was designed for 1300 students but has only around 300 now, so there’s plenty of room for the middle school to move in, Layne said.

“I don’t feel comfortable with that,” said parent Wateria Newman. She said mixing middle school kids into a high school could be trouble.

Teachers Union Leader Rangel said the relocation could be a challenge, but he is satisfied with the move.

“They have really paid attention to what the teachers are saying, so I think that the district has taken steps in the right direction to make it happen,” Rangel said.

A meeting for parents is scheduled at Sarah Zumwalt Middle School on Monday from 4:45 to 6pm.

More Parents Speak Out

As news of Zumwalt's closure spread across southern Dallas, parents at two more Dallas ISD schools told NBC 5 their campuses are also "unhealthy buildings", reiterating the language Layne used earler in the day.

Parents at W.H. Atwell Middle School and D.W. Carter High School said the aging facilities are making it difficult for their children to learn.

"He's always complaining that he has to have three or four jackets with him becaue the heating doesn't work," said the mother of a Carter High School studetn. The woman wanted to remain anonymous out of an abundance of caution for her child.

"DISD being a larger school district they should have a better handle on it, not only that they should have the funding," she said.

LAst year voters approved a $1.6 billion bond package. The district plans to build nearly a dozen new schools and renovate many of its older campuses. The earliest construction can start is June of next year.

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