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Mold compromises integrity of college’s historical building

Chase Cerbin and Christian Diaz, Staff Writers

Carson is currently closed to due to mold-induced damage in the basement. The mold problem was discovered this summer after a staff member noticed visible mold spores inside the building. So far the school has had two industrial hygienists inspect the entire building.

“[The industrial hygienists] did find extremely high levels of mold behind the paneling which is down in the basement and there were several areas that had elevated levels,” said Director of the Physical Plant Paul Braese. “These levels were higher than you would normally expect as compared to outside air mold samples.”

Water damage in Carson could have caused the mold to flourish

The school tried to treat the problem initially before school started, but the mold was significant enough that more work needed to be done.

“Servpro, a mold mitigation and remediation company, along with a small group of contracted laborers were hired to execute this plan. Our intent was to keep any possible Indoor Air Quality issues in check with the dehumidification systems and window air conditioners in the basement rooms. Then we would work to remove the basement paneled walls and address water intrusion from the outside over the next few weeks. We completed the wipe down and window air conditioning work Sunday, August 24. Yet, despite all these efforts, the conditions remained,” wrote Vice President for Administration and Finance Johnathan Ehrlich in an e-mail.

It is uncertain when classes will resume in Carson.

“The general plan as conceptualized at this point is to fix the conditions which allowed moisture infiltration into the building and then to clean the building. As cleaning progresses, periodic retesting of the building’s interior will be done, with the goal of ultimately reducing mold content to levels comparable with the outside air.” Ehrlich wrote in a school-wide e-mail. “Please be assured that everyone is committed to dealing with this issue in a straightforward, frank, and transparent manner. Each employee’s health (and of course our students’ health, also) is our primary concern.”

Students and staff alike have wondered about the health issues and concerns revolving around mold exposure. Some of the occupants of Carson did have symptoms related to unusual mold over the summer. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, mold exposure can bring on symptoms such “nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing, or skin irritation.”

For those more sensitive to mold, fever and short of breath can occur.

“The thing about mold is that it effects everyone differently,” said Braese. “Those sensitive to mold could be very effected when exposed to low levels, while others might not notice any difference when they are exposed to high levels.”

Naturally the mold issue of Carson brought upon fears of mold in other buildings.

“The school has inspected every single building on the campus since the start of the semester. A few other buildings had minor problems, but they were fixed. There was nothing near the extent of Carson,” said Braese. “Some ceiling panels in Sunderland were a problem and we installed a few dehumidifiers in different buildings, but that is typical.”

This is not the first time Carson has had such issues. It had some mold-related problems in 2002, but Braese noted the current situation was “much worse.”

The stability of the Carson building has been in question for a while. Last year Ian Robertson, fean of work, said that “it is not a secret to say that a number of individuals believe that Carson is at the end of its productive life. It doesn’t have very good access [for] anybody who has any kind of disability.”

The current moisture issues of Carson naturally bring up its life span once again.

Mold on a fixture in a Carson classroom

“At this time we are not prepared to answer hypothetical questions such as what will we do if it is not possible to remedy the mold to the level necessary for safe and comfortable reoccupation of Carson,” said Erhlich.

The school will keep the idea of building a new building to replace Carson an option.

“It is unlikely, however, that our insurance coverage would permit that use of insurance funds in such a way.” Ehrlich continued, “Nor is it projected that the cost of fixing Carson would make that a cost-effective solution, especially in light of the time frame that it would cost to raise funds for a new building, design it, and construct it.”

Evacuated faculty adapt to new locations

The discovery of the mold prompted college administration to remove Carson faculty from the condemned space and seek out new rooms on campus in which classes could be held.

The building was condemned soon after this discovery on Thursday, Aug. 19. Occupants were asked to vacate the premises of Carson when some reported symptoms related to mold exposure. A list of alternative locations for offices and classrooms was sent to faculty involved. Faculty members were asked to inspect newly assigned space in order to accommodate the new locations to each person’s specific needs. Faculty were also asked to provide FMTS with a list of items they would need to take from Carson, so that they could be cleaned and moved without compromising anyone’s health.

In all, 32 classes have been reassigned to locations which, FMTS admits, may not be perfect, but are immediately available. Thirteen faculty offices have also been relocated, which has caught faculty by surprise. Although this discovery has been inconvenient for all involved, the school has been proactive and transparent in their efforts to solve this problem.

Executive Director of the Environmental Leadership Center and Chief Sustainability Official for the College Margo Flood has had to deal with the physical separation of her work crew, which includes two other faculty members and 14 students. She now shares an office with a colleague in Laursen while the rest of her team has been moved to a duplex apartment building on Cabin Hill Road. This development has not fazed her.

“The good news is that it’s a healthier walk to the other side of campus. We are all getting stronger.”

Environmental Leadership Center Education Director Stan Cross also had an office and work crew in Carson for the past four years. Although the development of the Carson situation wade it difficult for the ELC Crew to function, the process has been bittersweet.

“Crisis happens. It made it rough on the crew for the two weeks we did not have a home.  It’s challenging to bring a team together when you’re displaced. We did our best using the library,

Bannerman and Cow Pie to get the work done.  In the end, I think it has made the crew stronger,” Cross said.

Material consolidated in a Carson classroom for cleanup

Flood is optimistic in her belief that this issue presents an opportunity for the college to show how they can address both health issues and its commitment to sustainability. The possibility of the creation of a new building remains.

“To be sustainable,” noted Flood, “we have to ask a series of questions: is the building salvageable? Can it be a healthy adequate space? If not, how much can we reuse of it and the footprint that is already there? That’s part of our sustainability commitment. We must consider long term and short term impact. Is it better to invest huge amounts of money right now in salvaging a building that does not have a lifespan of three or four more years?”

The college’s main preoccupation has been student and faculty health.

“I was grateful that there was an acknowledgment of the problem and that it wasn’t safe for faculty and students to remain in the building,” said Flood. “Quite frankly, moving out of the building was a relief because there was no expectation that people would stay in the building if it was an unhealthy situation.”

“Inevitably,” Cross said, “lessons are learned in a situation like this.  I trust that the college will take stock of the lessons and continue to improve crisis response.”

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