Mold cleanup at public schools still stuck in procurement
The problems facing the Guam Department of Education are no secret—but what remains a mystery is how soon education and government officials will get lingering issues resolved: issues like mold cleanup throughout the schools.
The seemingly massive undertaking remains held up in procurement for months now, with concerns of some classrooms smelling of mold coming out of campuses open to students like D.L. Perez at the start of the school year.
“I would expect that we should see that contract awarded fairly soon, and I can’t set a number on that because I don’t have control over that process at all," Superintendent of GDOE, Dr. Kenneth Swanson. "But, once it's gone through that approval and vetting, we’ll get them into the schools as fast as we can get them there–as quickly as we can ramp up and go to work.”
But what Swanson refers to as “as fast as we can” looks to equate to a lengthy process—the superintendent breaking down why procurement seems to be the underlying factor of the issue not moving forward fast enough.
“It’s the inspection and the identification of areas in each building—remember, we’re looking at 40 campuses, and they’ve all got individual rooms, and individual walls, and there are situations that you just can't guess on–you have to do air samples and those kinds of things–so, you need someone who’s qualified to do that according to EPA standards," he said.
GDOE is continuing to figure out the scope of work needed, all while working with Guam Homeland Security/Office of Civil Defense and GSA procurement utilizing the Disaster Local Area Network system.
“The challenge has been writing specifications to the level that there are qualified contractors on the island to bid on the job," Swanson said. "The only one I know of that was highly qualified was from off-island and working for DoDEA, and we were instructed to go with on-island contractors–so that’s been a challenge. It’s not complete yet, but it is out for bid.”
Still, some senators including Joanne Brown in this month’s oversight hearing with GDOE were not pleased with the stagnant progress report from GDOE.
“And yes, you’re right, we gave you an extra year. But we didn’t give you an extra year to sit back and take it slow," she said. "We wanted to maximize the opportunity for as many of children to be in school. You have the largest budget and the largest staff personnel of any agency in this government. And still, we’re hearing tonight, we have no progress in mold mitigation, we have no contractors on board for mold mitigation because we’re still trying to figure out the scope of what we need.”
Swanson on his takeaway from that hearing with lawmakers.
“I had two initial experiences with that–first of all, some of the senators were interested in gaining information, and some were interested in stating their opinions–I don’t know how much information they took away from that, but we tried to provide everything we could and be transparent," he said. "Their reaction is their…you have to ask them about it.”
Swanson doubling down, writing specifications for a contract that will involve several millions of dollars is not a simple thing.
He adds GDOE has done a huge part of the mold mitigation themselves already—explaining further that the greater need for mold cleanup goes above the level of expertise of what the department can do.
And in the interim, what remains in the air—what are students, faculty, and staff breathing in? KUAM will continue to follow the issue and any solutions, if any.