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Principal ejected from Richmond County school board committee meeting after outburst

Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012 10:02 PM
Last updated Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012 2:05 AM
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An elementary school principal was escorted out of the Richmond County Board of Education committee meeting Tuesday by two school safety officers after yelling that board members ignored his concerns about mold and asbestos in his building.

Hartley Gibbons, the principal at Terrace Manor Elementary School, was escorted out of the Richmond County Board of Education meeting Tuesday after yelling at board members for ignoring his concerns.  TRACEY MCMANUS/STAFF
Hartley Gibbons, the principal at Terrace Manor Elementary School, was escorted out of the Richmond County Board of Education meeting Tuesday after yelling at board members for ignoring his concerns.

Hartley Gibbons, the principal at Terrace Manor Elementary School, interrupted a discussion about the priority list of construction projects being funded by the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

When his school showed up as number 46 of 63 schools on the list, Gibbons jumped from his seat and lunged at the microphone.

Board President Alex Howard banged his gavel and board member Jimmy Atkins told Gibbons he was out of order, but the principal continued.

“I want to let it be known that Terrace Manor is a 49-year-old building!” Gibbons yelled as School Safety and Security Chief Patrick Clayton guided him out of the building. “We got mold, asbestos, and we’re number 40-something on the list. We got zero dollars!”

Gibbons’ outburst Tues­day was the culmination of about six months of complaints to board members and Superintendent Frank Roberson about alleged mold and contaminants in his building that he said were making teachers and staff sick. Although he said school officials were not responsive to his concerns, at least two agencies have ruled this year that his building is safe and mold-free. Gibbons told the board that he tried to get on the meeting agenda but was denied.

Alternative Construction and Environmental Solu­tions, an environmental consulting and construction management firm, conducted an environmental investigation Sept. 17 and 19 to test for asbestos-containing materials, moisture intrusion, mold spore counts and a limited indoor air quality analysis.

The testing found “no visible evidence of mold growth,” although no invasive inspecting was performed, according to the report.

The company also found that all asbestos-containing materials and painted surfaces were in good condition. It determined that the only water damage found was left over from a period before the roof was replaced. The company found one HVAC unit that was not functioning properly and another that had a condensation drip, but Benton Starks, the senior director of facilities for the school system, said all those issues have been repaired.

The East Central Health District also inspected the school Nov. 6 and found “no signs of any current mold issues within the school building,” according to a letter sent to Gibbons.

Starks said he also consulted with the Environmental Protection Agency regional office and was assured that the school system was taking the proper steps to address the issue.

“It’s not a cause and effect,” Starks said. “You have sick people in your building, but that doesn’t mean the building is making them sick. There is no basis for any of this. None. There is no scientific evidence. No roof leaks.”

Although Gibbons threatened to “go straight to the press” during his outburst, he refused to speak to reporters after the meeting. After the committee meetings ended and the regular board meeting started directly after, Gibbons began picketing alone outside the Board of Education building.

Without speaking, he paced back and forth in a straight line wearing sheets of paper on his chest and back that said “TMES School Unsafe.” Gibbons would not answer questions about what his concerns were or what his plan of action would be.

Gibbons’ school was not allocated any money in the most current Phase IV SPLOST. The 59-year-old Terrace Manor was allocated $661,000 during Phase I of SPLOST for a new physical education building and roof replacement. In Phase II, it received $3.3 million for a building renovation and HVAC upgrades, which were completed in 2005.

No money was allocated to Terrace Manor in the third or fourth SPLOSTs, but Starks said more than $100,000 has been spent on the school in the past six months.

That includes $14,832 in skylight repairs, $40,000 in painting, $6,885 for the air monitoring, $2,000 for the environmental investigation and $18,500 for HVAC units, among other expenditures.

Although Gibbons said roof leaks, mold and contaminants are making his staff ill and money for repairs is necessary, Roberson said he was comfortable with school officials’ conclusions so far.

“That took a very unorthodox presentation, which was not appreciated,” Roberson said of Gibbons’ outburst. “We regret that he’s not looking at it from a rational perspective. There are ways you address those issues.”


• The Richmond County Board of Education approved three administration positions. Doug Frierson was named principal of Garrett Elementary School. Melissa Shepard was named principal and Barbara Brown was named assistant principal at Spirit Creek Middle School.

• The board agreed to meet Nov. 27 to review the past evaluation for Superintendent Frank Roberson and establish a new format for his next evaluation. The board agreed in September to meet and complete an evaluation but never did. Board member Helen Minchew brought the issue up at Tuesday’s meeting after seeing no progress. “We need to quit dragging our feet,” board member Jimmy Atkins said.

– From staff reports

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seenitB4 11/14/12 - 11:22 am
Why does anyone lie...

Politics wothout lying is like a day without sunshine....

What harm would it do to recheck the dang place....even tear out a section just to make sure the mold is not there...are the kids worth THAT....letMr Gibbons point out the trouble area he wants inspected...have him witness the re check....the man has gone out on a limb for some reason...maybe pressure from being ignored when he thinks there is danger.....geeez....spend millions on a center that won't get used & balked at this....just doesn't make any dang sense..

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 11/14/12 - 11:41 am
Augusta College

Yes, the powers that be at Augusta College and the Board of Regents thought those buildings were worth saving, so they rehabilitated them by removing asbestos. BOR has deep pockets. I was merely ruminating that the Terrace Manor school building would probably not be looked on as favorably as those Augusta College buildings were. RCBOE has a habit of abandoning old school buildings in favor of shiny new ones. Then they let the abandoned buildings sit there until the roof falls in and vagrants set fires inside. Then they moan that they can't get a fair price when they put the dilapidated buildings on the market.

NamelessHuman 11/14/12 - 12:29 pm
Big Problems

Those of you who have no experience with the school or it's staff need to keep your "facts" to yourself. Those of us who have been in the school know they have an asbestos problem. They most certainly have mold/mildew problems and years of painting over the mold and water damage doesn't fix the problem. Only of late have they taken some steps to try to remedy the problems (roof repairs). Much of this due to the Principal's tireless efforts. If any engineering firm filed a report stating there was no asbestos or mold they either didn't do their job properly or filed a fraudulent report. Also, Robertson's comments need to be taken with a grain of salt. He has not been involved on a day to day basis in over a year and in his absence his subordinates did absolutely nothing to address the problems. Those are the facts.

NamelessHuman 11/14/12 - 12:51 pm
$40,000 in Painting??

Also in regards to my last post, that $40K in painting was a complete waste of money. The painting job only covered up substantial water damage and it was of such poor quality that loose white paint "dust" was left covering everything and never cleaned up. This "job" was not done in a safe manner and adds to the respiratory issues at the school.

MarinerMan 11/14/12 - 01:29 pm
You've Sometimes got to Look Behind the Curtain

As was stated in the article "The testing found “no visible evidence of mold growth,” although no invasive inspecting was performed, according to the report". If you are sick, what doctor is going to feel your forehead, then provide an accurate diagnosis? Same thing here. Like was said above, you NEED to pull outlet covers, access panels, and ACTUALLY look around. I personally, would slice into sone sheetrock around the roof leak areas, and see if there has been mold contamination. If you don't find anything after an INVASIVE inspection, then politely ask Mr. Gibbons to shut up and take a seat. There is probably all kinds of things in a building that old.

Pthoma8 11/14/12 - 01:52 pm
Show Us The Files

I believe the RCBOE should provide a report to the parents and teachers, which list all the maintenance work done to the school over the past 10 years. The report should include the PM schedule/documentation for the HVAC & Plumbing system for the school. If the school was built 46 years ago, than asbestos materials are sure to be in the building. However, we must remember that asbestos cannot harm you unless it is being removed. Ask the School Board to provide training records for its maintenance workers (this is a tell all to this problem also).

PUPPYMOMMA 11/14/12 - 03:03 pm
Wow! Who knew a BOE meeting

Wow! Who knew a BOE meeting could be so entertaining? Maybe he's watched "Lean on Me" one too many times. I laughed out loud when I read about his 1 man picket demonstration. I admire his spunk and determination to get his point across. I attended TMES in the 2nd grade, many moons ago. I can only imagine what is behind the walls. I understand his frustration about the red tape and lack of real action.

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