It's a labor-intensive process, but with almost 100 people and about $1.5 million of equipment on site to clean up Youngsville High School, the work is moving quickly.
The level of detail required by Warren County School District, its insurance company, and the company doing the work - Servpro of East Erie and Warren Counties - means the job will not be finished quickly at the expense of quality.
On Sunday, June 16, during vandalism at the school allegedly committed by three graduates, a majority of the fire extinguishers in the building were intentionally set off, coating much of the interior of the school with corrosive ammonium phosphate dust.
Times Observer photos by Brian Ferry
Crews from Servpro of East Erie and Warren Counties, including some temporary workers out of Warren County, clean up corrosive dust from fire extinguishers at Youngsville High School Tuesday with (top) 15 workers in the technology center and (above) six in the principal’s office.
Servpro is on the insurance company's short list of clean-up providers, according to Large Loss Response Team Leader Harold Katofsky, and was called in to remove the dust.
Katofsky is no stranger to big problems at big buildings. "I do large losses all over," he said on Wednesday. "I've probably worked 150 schools much worse than this."
The high school has a footprint of about 105,000 square feet. But Servpro is cleaning more than the floors. Including the ceilings, walls, closet walls, and other surfaces, "I would guess it's over a million square feet," Katofsky said.
There were about 70 workers at the school on Tuesday. The number was up on Wednesday. "We're using 92 total people," Katofsky said, "twenty-one of them are Servpro, five from Servpro of East Erie and Warren Counties."
Four different Servpro branches are on site. "No one of us is equipped to handle a job of this size," Kevin Patterson, owner of the East Erie and Warren Counties and West Erie County branches, said. "We all work well together."
The Servpro employees have various certifications through the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC), Katofsky said.
Of the remaining workers, 43 were hired on a temporary basis from Warren County and more than 20 from Erie County. Some of those local workers were hired through Accent Staffing. "There's nobody here at minimum wage," he said.
In addition to working alongside the temporary workers, Servpro personnel supervise and conduct quality control.
Those workers are cleaning the building one square foot at a time.
In the case of ceiling tiles, HEPA filter vacuum systems are used to removed most of the dust. Then a leather sponge picks up most of the rest. Finally, a hand wipe clears any remaining dust.
The cleaning solution is slightly acidic to counteract the alkalinity of the fire extinguisher dust, he said.
"We only clean a very minute section with a towel," he said. Each towel is used once, then washed at a local laundry facility. "You don't want to use a dirty towel."
"You're taking a foot by a foot and cleaning... a door frame by a door frame and cleaning it," Katofsky said. "When a room is done, they call. One of our managers will go there and try to find something wrong so I'm not embarrassed the next morning when I walk through with (WCSD Quality Assurance Manager) Boyd (Freeborough)."
Some areas received a quick initial wipe-down with intense cleaning to follow. "The books in the library... the sooner we get them swept off, the better," Katofsky said. "The stainless steel in the kitchen... same thing."
Although some areas of the building were relatively free of vandalism, even those areas will be cleaned. "The insurance company representatives "feel it's important to certify every room in the building," Freeborough said.
"A school district has a responsibility to the citizens and we have the responsibility to the insurance company to get it right," Katofsky said.
Servpro has 87 air scrubbers, each capable of handling about 2,000 cubic feet per minute in the building. "Fire extinguisher dust is very fine... like baking soda," Katofsky said.
Servpro is also on for removing the red, white, and black graffiti painted throughout the school. The company's graffiti remover "is taking it right off," Katofsky said.
Ductwork through the building will also have to be cleaned.
"We're hoping that on Wednesday before the Fourth of July we'll have everything done," Katofsky said. "We're not sure about HVAC."
He said the company will send a crew the following week to pick up any powder that settles out of the air. "We want to come back the Monday after and spruce it up."
"We're looking at what's best so when the teachers and students come back it's as close to perfect as we can get it," Katofsky said.
He can't guarantee perfection, but he did assure the district that Patterson will correct any problems discovered that should have been taken care of in the initial cleaning.
The physical cleaning - removing the chemical dust and paint - is only part of the project.
The school district will also have to have every electric and electronic device in the building from computers to phones to pencil sharpeners evaluated, and in most cases, disassembled, cleaned - by submergence in an ultra-sonic cleaning solution system, according to Katofsky - put back together, and tested. Servpro is cleaning the outside of the electronics as they move through the building.
The cleaning and recertification of the building's fire alarm system is another job. There are also physical damages to be repaired, including a window that the vandals allegedly broke to gain entry to the building.
The total estimated cost of the work is approaching $1 million, with Servpro's portion of the job exceeding $400,000.
"When the teachers and students come back, there aren't going to be any health issues," District Director of Buildings and Grounds Services Dr. Norbert Kennerknecht said. "We're grateful to the insurance company for getting this rolling as quick as they did."
The building will be ready for the first day of school. "Rest assured, school will open on time," he said.