Parkside Bible Church of Watertown, New York is a massive building that serves approximately 450 parishioners every week. Walking into the building and entering the double doors to the sanctuary reveals beautiful hand-stained wood beams, which surround the room and stretch from floor to ceiling in graceful arches that meet in the peak of the steeple 45 feet in the air.

On November 23, 2013 IEQ Services was called in to remove visible mold growth on the drywall ceiling in the peak of the sanctuary. Upon inspection, it was discovered that significant water intrusion had been an ongoing problem from an inadequate ventilation system in the steeple compounded with roof issues due to storm damage.

But the mold growth on the drywall was only the tip of the iceberg. The roof decking and exposed beams were heavily contaminated. The project would require extensive containment and air pressure control to prevent cross-contamination to other areas of the sprawling church. The majority of work would need to be performed from scissor lifts, as the most heavily contaminated areas were closest to the peak of the steeple. To further complicate things, the church would need to be in an acceptable state for Sunday services as relocating the congregation would prove to be too costly.

The insurance adjuster called in an architect and structural engineering team to develop a plan for the steeple following remediation. To ensure that our role in the project went smoothly and that we could safely open the church for Sunday services, we recommended that an industrial hygienist be brought in to document the existing levels of contamination and work with us to ensure our remediation plan was the most effective way to carry out remediation activities. 

Work began by setting up containment barriers, a decontamination chamber, placing the area under negative pressure and ensuring that the air scrubbers were sufficiently providing an air exchange rate of at least four air changes per hour in accordance with industry standards. After setting up over 6,000 square feet of plastic for containment, isolation barriers and decontamination chambers under appropriate negative pressure, the actual work on the project was ready to commence. 

First, the contaminated drywall and insulation needed to be removed and bagged. The drywall was coated with an acoustical treatment which made the material much more similar in composition to plaster than traditional sheetrock. As it turns out, tearing drywall from 45 feet on a lift was more than the technicians had bargained for and they opted for groundwork of wiping down bags and assisting in maneuvering the lift. Field operations manager, George Longtin, took over the demolition and removed nearly 4,000 square feet of affected material. Upon removal the heavy extent of contamination became apparent. Due to the size of the area that was in need of physical removal of visible mold growth, as well as the importance of a consistent finish for the exposed beams, it was determined that media blasting would be the best option. Hand sanding would be ineffective and inconsistent as well as time-consuming and expensive. The height of the project also proved daunting as the staff technicians were not comfortable working from a lift. This needed to be a job one person could perform from the lift. 

After much consultation with our media blasting distributer, Blast Boss, we were in agreement that walnut blasting would be the ideal blast media for this particular project to ensure the beams would be effectively stripped but not damaged and in prime condition to receive stain once the remediation was complete.

Once again we were on the schedule of phasing work so that the sanctuary would be clean and safe for parishioners each Sunday. The labor intensive process of ensuring that containment and isolation barriers were properly removed each Saturday, with all surfaces HEPA-vacuumed and damp-wiped to remove any settled spores, ongoing exposed projects properly isolated and a  reassembled work space Sunday afternoon dictated long hours and working through Thanksgiving to ensure the project stayed on schedule.

From record snowfalls, frigid below-zero temperatures and closures of major highways as a result of inclement weather, to reluctant equipment as a result of -40 degree wind chills and an unforeseen fear of heights from the crew, this project faced many challenges. This job was a testament to the effectiveness of a remarkable field operations manager who is willing to tackle any project and just how much a very small crew can accomplish.

I think that often there is a belief that bigger is better, but we challenge that notion with every job and embrace the small size of our company - it is exactly that small size that allows us to work so efficiently and modify our plans to best suit the needs of every client. Mold is a specialty and as a small company we are able to treat it as such by easily adapting to new techniques and technologies as well as keeping our crew up to date on legal and educational developments within the field. 

 Have an interesting project case study you’d like to share with the industry? E-mail R&R editor Eric Fish at