Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Saturday, November 18, 2017

Professors, classes moved from Battelle because of mold growth

Faculty called for emergency action and remediation

Professors, classes moved from Battelle because of mold growth

The scene from inside the remediation work in the Battelle-Tompkins building. 

Several professors and classes on the terrace level of the Battelle-Tompkins building relocated to new locations in October due to high humidity, water infiltration and mold growth, according to Joseph Van Story, AU’s director of facilities operations.

Literature professor Heather McDonald said she has been complaining about dampness and mildew on the terrace level since 2016. However, the issue accelerated this fall when conditions were no longer bearable for professors with offices in the basement, she said.

“At one point, someone described my office as a rotting fish tank because it smelled so bad and paper was curling,” McDonald, whose office is on the terrace level, said.

Van Story said the construction phase of the remediation process, including restoring the insulation and installing fan coils and sheet rock to stop the water dripping was completed last week, and a final round of indoor air quality tests will be conducted before staff will reoccupy the location.

Temporary corrective measures, such as repainting and the use of personal dehumidifiers, had previously been in place, Van Story said.

“This has been an ongoing situation for a number of years,” Van Story said. ”Last year, they did corrective measures, but that didn't include any of the water proofing or the identification of how the problem was occurring, which resulted in the situation we have now.”

Prior to the repairs, professors started holding meetings with students with allergies or asthma in the hall or other locations because they were worried it could trigger health issues, McDonald said.

The faculty who used the building called for an indoor air quality test earlier this semester, McDonald said. The air quality report did not indicate a dangerous environment, Van Story said.

“At no time were we aware of any hazardous environmental elements ever present in any of these areas,” Van Story said.

The report is being held as confidential business records at this time, Van Story said. Faculty brought the report to the attention of the College of Arts and Sciences dean’s office, McDonald said, and emergency remediation was underway within a week.

“The results of that report showed an outside contractor saying these issues need to be fixed immediately, and we were told it’ll be fixed over winter break,” McDonald said. “That’s when we went to our dean.”

The facilities team investigated the building and found several areas where water was leaking, Van Story said. AU looked for a permanent solution to the humidity, water infiltration and mold growth in the building, he said.

“When this was brought to my attention, we wanted to develop a plan that would solve the problem permanently, not just a cosmetic repair, but a permanent repair,” Van Story said. ”In order to do that, we needed to understand the full extent of how the water was coming into the building.”

T-48, a classroom across the hall from the offices undergoing remediation, is still being used for classes. Dylan Halpern, a freshman who is taking an Arabic class in T-48, said no one has told students why the construction that occurring during their class is happening.

“We’re a little surprised that no one's thought to move us,” Halpern said. ”We’re just there to take Arabic. It's not a huge deal, but it is kind of concerning that there is mold just across the hall.”

McDonald said she is “thrilled” the University has taken action, but wished it had happened faster. She hopes complaints about potentially unsafe conditions in AU buildings are taken more seriously in the future.

“I felt that there was a lot of attitude of ‘you're just being sensitive,’” McDonald said. “Even if that's the case, I still deserve a safe work environment where I feel safe, and so do my students.”

aveitch@theeagleonline.com


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