Townhouse Mold On Retreat

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Houses in the Crescents and Greens were cleaned last weekend by maintenance and outside contractors. (Photo by Ryan Gugerty)
Houses in the Crescents and Greens were cleaned last weekend by maintenance and outside contractors. (Photo by Ryan Gugerty)
The campus mold problem, once only the result of what seemed to be isolated problems, has become endemic on the Townhouse Greens, with ten separate townhouses being evacuated for extensive remediation.

The mold issue started at the beginning of the academic year when the residents of Geneva Boone 4 moved in. Senior Julie Bernstein, a resident of Boone 4, said, “We moved in and there was a huge stain on our carpet…[when] we had our first rain the carpet flooded.”

Bernstein and the other residents of Boone 4 put in a work order to get the flooding checked out by maintenance, but according to Bernstein it was an “on-and-off uphill battle to get it taken care of properly.”

Eventually, and after parents of the residents of Boone 4 got involved, Maintenance came in to take a look; what they found was a leaking roof and dangerous levels of mold. Bernstein said, “you could feel all the moisture in the air, and we all had cold-like symptoms.”

The initial cleaning of Boone 4, perhaps as a result of it being the first house to have the issue, took three and a half weeks, during which residents of Boone 4 either took replacement housing provided by Residence Life or couch-surfed. However, Bernstein pointed out that “it didn’t really feel that bad” and that she was very happy with the compensations Residence Life provided.

After Boone 4, Maintenance teams led by Assistant Vice President of Campus Operations Derek Thornton and Environmental Health and Safety Coordinator Polly Miller expanded the scope of their search for mold to other townhouses on the Greens.

These teams discovered that a large number of houses on the Greens had some amount of mold, and ten houses had severe enough levels of mold that students had to be evacuated over the Reading Days weekend.

Margaret Wing Dodge Houses 3 and 7, Homer L. Dodge Houses 1, 3, 4, and 8, Bernard C. Trueschler Houses 1 and 6, and Elanor Diggs Harrington House 3 were all evacuated. As of this writing, mold has also been found in four houses in the South Crescent Townhouses, though in amounts small enough to be taken care of by housekeeping.

Miller said, “I was disappointed with what I found.” Thornton, agreed, and said he was “very surprised” by the amounts of mold.

In order to prepare students and answer questions about the issue, a meeting was held on Oct. 7 between representatives of the college and those soon to be displaced. At the meeting, students were told about the different species of mold found, the health effects of mold, and the plans for remediation of the townhouses.

Students were also provided compensation for their displacement, alternate housing, and vouchers for free meals. In a message sent out to a Facebook group created for residents of the Greens and their supporters after the meeting, Senior Laura Mateczun said, “We feel that the school, while undoubtedly [having] screwed up previous housing inspections over the last two or more years, is taking this situation very seriously and attempting [as] quick a response as possible.”

In order to clean up the mold, a third-party remediation team was brought in, which allowed a significantly faster turnover; instead of taking three weeks, townhouses were completely remediated by Oct. 12. Miller said, “they did a lot of extra stuff…they were excellent.”

Despite the college’s recent and extensive efforts to combat the mold problem, the whole fiasco may be indicative of a more pervasive negligence in cleanliness. Thornton said, “[It is] expected as we prepare these units…that a thorough job of cleaning is done.”

He added that members of the maintenance staff, before the beginning of the academic year, are supposed to clean coils in the electrical closets (the primary place mold has been found) and change air filters.

However, the pervasive presence of mold seems to belie this, and Thornton said that it’s “something I’m looking into…I have to review those processes to see where the problem lies.”

Miller also said that she was planning on conducting a root cause analysis of the problem to see if the issue has been the result of “insufficient training, someone doing the job who is unqualified, or a general system failure.” She added, “I dropped everything to give this 100 percent of my efforts.”

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