Queens University residence halls are dealing with a mold outbreak this year, leaving students unhappy with both the mold itself and the university’s response to the problem.
Following the outcry, Queens now plans on addressing the issue in Barnhardt and Albright Residence Halls, two of the dorms with the worst mold issues, said Dean of Students John Downey and Queens CFO and Vice President for Administration Matt Packey in a February 26 interview.
Asthma or something else?
Freshman Sam Tedrow spent her first semester at Queens trying to figure out why she kept getting so sick. In that short span of time, Tedrow, who has asthma and is allergic to mold, says she suffered from a double ear infection, a sinus infection and bronchitis, and her asthma attacks – which had previously occurred only about once a month – increased to multiple times a week.
A music therapy major, Tedrow was so sick she had trouble singing in lessons or in choir, she said, adding that her grades dropped as a result.Up until she went home for winter break, Tedrow thought she just needed to get her asthma medication changed, she said. But then when she went home, her symptoms vanished, Tedrow said.
“So, I…talked to my mom,” Tedrow said, “and she said, ‘Actually, I think it’s your room.’”
It became readily apparent that mold in her Barnhardt room was the cause of Tedrow’s symptoms right after she returned back from break, she said.
“So, I came back, and…I saw that there was mold actually blowing out of the [air conditioning] vents,” Tedrow said. “And it had collected on my shelf.”
When campus services arrived – two weeks after Tedrow’s initial call – they found mold growing on her wall as well, she said.
But while it was not visible until after winter break, Tedrow said she traces the mold in her room to a much earlier issue in the school year.
In October 2015, Tedrow’s heater and several neighbors’ heaters broke, flooding the rooms, she said.
“Some of the rooms, the mold was so bad that you could see it coming through the carpet,” Tedrow said.
The residents of two neighboring rooms were moved out of their dorms, one pair temporarily and the other permanently, Tedrow said.
Campus services did not move Tedrow and her then-roommate out, instead coming two weeks after Tedrow notified them of the flood to soak up the water, she said.
But, Tedrow said, workers only cleaned the open area in her room and not under Tedrow’s and her roommate’s beds and desks. Though Tedrow never saw mold on her carpet, she thinks that the mold originated there, she said.
“You know that musty, moldy smell?” Tedrow asked “My whole room smelled like that after the leak.”
But Tedrow never connected it to her health issues until after winter break, she said.
After campus services did the initial check of her room in the beginning of the spring semester, Tedrow told them about the possibility of mold in her carpet, she said.
They promised to come and sponge it and never did, Tedrow said. Instead, they wiped down the mold on the walls with Clorox – a superficial fix – Tedrow said.
Campus services did come back to look at her air conditioner and decided they needed to hire an outside company to fix it, Tedrow said.
But a week passed, Tedrow said, and nobody came to fix her air conditioner. She said she decided it was time to move out. Her roommate, who was not sickened by the mold, decided to stay.
“I was just tired of living in that,” Tedrow said. “I was sick already, and I was really struggling with my voice.”
The process of moving turned out to be another ordeal, Tedrow said, with the university trying to put her into one of the dorms near her in Barnhardt that had been vacated because of mold.
But now living in Wireman, she is feeling so much better, Tedrow said.
“Within the week, I was feeling a lot better,” she said. “I haven’t had an asthma attack since I moved in.”
A history of mold problems
Junior Sarai Hayes has dealt with mold issues all three years she has attended Queens, first in Albright, then in Byrum (formerly known as South) Residence Hall and then in Albright again
The past two years have been the worst mold-wise, though, she said.
She and suitemate Jessy Epley liked Byrum at first when they moved in sophomore year, she said. But soon, their bathroom started to flood regularly, she said, adding that the amount of water the flood produced got larger each time it occurred. At first, it would only seep into Epley’s room, but eventually it started to enter Hayes’ room as well, Epley said. Campus services was unresponsive to their complaints, Hayes and Epley said
“They were telling us it wasn’t a problem with the pipes, that we should just plunge it,” Epley said. “It wasn’t even coming from the toilet, so I don’t really understand the plunging thing.”
Instead, Hayes said, the water was seeping out of the floor underneath the toilet.
Campus Services also suggested that one of them go behind the toilet and turn a switch off that was connected to the pipes, Hayes said.
At that point, the water was up past their feet but not quite up to their ankles, Hayes said, and she went barefoot into the water-filled bathroom to follow their instructions.
A little bit after that, Hayes started to get extremely sick, experiencing chest pains and respiratory issues, Hayes said.
“I couldn’t breath, and my voice sounded terrible,” Hayes said. “And it just wasn’t like a normal cold. It was just worse than anything I had ever experienced, honestly.”
While Epley did not get as sick as Hayes, she also started not feeling well, she said.
“I’m sure as many times as that carpet was left soaking wet, that’s how mold grows, and we were sick after that,” Epley said.This year, Epley and Hayes were pretty content with their decision to live in an Albright apartment, they said.
But almost immediately after entering the apartment, they realized the room had, among other issues, mold, Epley said. They found mold on the ceilings and around the shower, as well as in their air conditioners, she said. It was also in their apartment’s mini kitchen, on top of the microwaves and on the ceiling there, Epley said.
“And when we contacted campus services about it, they told us that it just looked like dirt and left it alone,” she said.
After that, campus services would say they would come to fix the other problems with the room but never did, she said.
“The added stress of the room was making it to where we didn’t even want to be at Queens,” Epley said, “because we were constantly emailing campus services, and they never really came.”
Epley got fed up enough that she sent an email detailing the room’s problems to high-up people at the university, she said.
“I actually sent that email to Dean [of Students John] Downey, and [Queens President] Pamela Davies, and [Director of Residence Life] Edward Young – as many people as I possibly could send that to,” Epley said, “and after that, we started seeing a little bit of help.”
Epley and Hayes moved into Wireman right before winter break, and it’s been smooth sailing ever since, Epley said.
“When we first moved in, we kept saying that it was like living in a hotel compared to Albright,” Epley said.
Barnhardt and Albright account for 60 percent of the 32 residence hall mold complaints made between October and December of 2015.
These two dorms are prime for mold growth because of their heating systems and window air conditioning units, which inherently collect moisture within rooms, Packey said. Deteriorating pipes, which have caused leaks in recent years, have exacerbated the problem, he said.
The administration now plans on replacing the heating and air conditioning systems in both buildings, Packey said. The residence halls’ built-in furniture will be replaced with something similar to South’s furniture, Downey said. While it is not set in stone, they are currently looking at a timetable of starting the renovations of Barnhardt next fall and Albright in the summer of 2017, Packey said.
This would mean that students – specifically, freshmen – would continue to live in Albright next year, Downey said. Though mold issues would persist in the dorm, the closing of Barnhardt would allow campus services to devote more time and resources to addressing mold issues in Albright and jump on them right away, Downey said.
The university will also work to replace any of the broken heaters in Albright, he said.
Queens will be sending students an email announcing the renovation plan sometime Thursday.
Packey, who started overseeing campus services this June, acknowledges that campus services has not been as responsive as it should have been.
But the university’s inability to fill two open staffing positions has been a problem, as has campus services’ ineffective complaint-tracking program, Packey said. Campus services has 48 workers, administrative included, Packey said. Although he could not give a firm number at the time, he estimated there are 36 staff workers.
Campus services will get a new web-based complaint-tracking program in the future, Downey said, adding that campus services will fill the two open positions by the fall of 2016.
Epley, though, won’t forgive campus services anytime soon.
“I think the reason I had such a rough time last semester was entirely because of campus services,” she said.