Mold Problem Persists at WC

By Abby Wargo
Student Life Editor

The first week of the semester is hectic for both students and staff, and to complicate things, William Smith Hall was plagued with mold during the entire week. Fortunately, the problem was solved within days of being spotted, and affected professors were able to resume their work.

“It was definitely distressing, but I am very pleased at how quickly and efficiently the College took care of the issue. Nobody wants mold, and I am really glad it was taken care of,” said Dr. Elizabeth O’Connor, assistant professor of English.

Jennifer Kaczmarczyk, the faculty administrative assistant for Smith, was informed of the problem the week before school began.

The mold was reported to staff on Monday, Aug. 21. It was in several offices on the second and third floors. On Aug. 28, an outside company was brought in to remediate the problem. There were new mold outbreaks every day due to the high humidity in the building, and the nine affected offices required microbial deep cleanings, according to Dr. O’Connor.

“My desk, my chair, my books, my jacket, and my walls were all covered,” she said.

Kaczmarczyk said, “Once given the information of what was found, and where and what had been cleaned up, we walked the building and discussed every area affected. Conversations were started with the Director of Buildings & Grounds, the faculty in Smith and the Dean’s Office, proper cleaning processes were verified, individual dehumidifiers were brought in to help with the excess of humidity, and a Mold Remediation Team was scheduled to clean the affected areas.”

Quick action by WC staff eliminated the mold problem that plagued William Smith Hall this semester.
Quick action by WC staff eliminated the mold problem that plagued William Smith Hall this semester.

Valerie RiChard, the director of the physical plant in Buildings & Grounds, put in place a “stopgap measure” for the mold, including strategic dehumidifiers throughout the building, as well as sending out air samples to be tested in order to better understand the issue. Currently, the geothermal system that is based in Miller Library is not helping to dehumidify air at the source.

“We installed control systems in Smith so that they would be dehumidifying at the fresh air intake, instead of having to dehumidify the building,” she said.

Mold persists and thrives when the air is too saturated with moisture, and the antiquated Smith building does not have the circulation and ventilation on its own to prevent this from happening, according to RiChard.

A few outside companies were called in to help rectify the issue. Fisher Environmental provided the remediation assistance, while Sussex Air tested the air samples taken from Smith. For the controls, KLH, the same company that works with the Toll Science Center, provided consulting.

“[KLH] understands the systems here, and that there are a lot of historical problems surrounding these buildings,” RiChard said.

For the remediation portion, a biocide, generally used for mold and asbestos, was used for a thorough cleaning of the building. The Custom House also received a thorough cleaning.

RiChard cited Edith Elbourn, a housekeeper assigned to Smith, as an “excellent steward” of the building. During the week, she cleaned each office daily and dehumidified the building by installing various dehumidifiers in problem areas.

“The housekeeping staff arrives early in the morning and is the first line of defense for issues…I am very grateful to Edith, our Smith housekeeper and Valerie RiChard for their quick response to this issue,” Kaczmarczyk said.

Buildings & Grounds focused on Smith all week to solve the problem as quickly as possible, but the fight to reduce mold outbreaks in historical buildings on campus is far from over.

“We are working on a long-term solution for this by discovering and resolving the root problem. We want to prevent this from happening next year,” RiChard said.

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