Employees in Tate Page say mold still present in building

Dave Shinall

Facilities Management director Doug Ault received another report Friday related to mold in Tate Page Hall. It follows in a long line of complaints about airborne irritants in Tate Page and other campus buildings.

Sharon Hartz, building coordinator for Tate Page, filed the report raising concerns about moisture – a catalyst for mold growth.

“When it rains, we have leaks,” Hartz said. “Water runs on the inside of the windows as well as the outside of the windows. That’s a major problem putting moisture into the building. We still have a few ceiling leaks.”

Though administrators have spent more than $130,000 to clean up mold in the building, employees say the fixes aren’t enough – they’re still getting sick.

But it’s unclear exactly what measures the university has taken to appease complainants.

On Sept. 18, the Herald filed a public records request asking the university for documentation about employees who have been moved from buildings because of mold, or who have filed worker’s compensation claims.

On Sept. 23, Bob Edwards, assistant vice president for university relations, responded that Western has no documentation of employees being moved or even requesting to be moved because of mold.

But psychology professor Adrain Thomas claims he was moved from Tate Page shortly after he started teaching there last year. Thomas’ doctor blamed his patient’s condition on mold in the building.

Now Thomas teaches next door in the Academic Complex. He said the university moved him because of his allergic reaction. His condition has improved since the move, though he still gets sick when he goes to Tate Page for meetings or to make copies.

“I get similar symptoms, not as bad as before, when I was there for extended periods, but I get numb lips and facial numbness,” Thomas said. “When I was in there for eight, 10 hours a day, I would have twitches and things like that.”

Thomas also filed a workers’ compensation claim against the university for about $200 in medical expenses 11 months ago. He said he hasn’t yet to receive a reply from Western.

Others who work in the building believe mold is the cause of their illnesses, too.

Psychology professor Betsy Shoenfelt, a candidate for faculty regent, said she plans on appealing denial of her claim for medical expenses. She said she spends about $1,000 annually on allergy medicine. Mold in Tate Page made her sick too, she said.

“My reaction is more chronic congestion,” she said. “I have frequent loss of hearing in one of my ears, where my ears just fill up because of allergies.

In response, administrators point to their expensive and extensive efforts to stop recurring infestations in Tate Page.

Ault said facilities has done as much as it can do with the money it has.

From last fall through this spring, facilities crews and contractors cleaned air ducts, replaced leaky air cooler valves, pipe insulation, air handlers and ventilation system fan coils, Ault said. One contractor used ultraviolet lights to kill fungi.

“This summer, we did have some problems with leaks in certain rooms on the second floor,” Ault said. “Most of those were corrected in August, and, as far as I know, we’ve not had any further complaints of moisture or mold in Tate Page since that point.”

Shoenfelt said it isn’t enough. She wants the university to spend more on maintaining existing buildings.

“They took some remedial steps, but we still currently have a mold problem in this building,” Shoenfelt said.

She said mold is visible in many of the rooms in the building, and that students regularly have allergic reactions in class.

Built in 1970, Tate Page – a round, four-story, red-brick building – houses Western’s psychology and education departments. Hundreds of students attend classes in the building’s 26 classrooms. More than 250 staff and teachers work in the 138,000-square-foot building.

Tate Page is one of a number of buildings on Western’s campus, including the fine arts center and Jones-Jaggers Hall, with mold problems.

But Ault says Western has a $60 million backlog in deferred maintenance and that more help can’t come without more money.

The Kentucky General Assembly’s failure to adopt a state budget complicates Western’s maintenance and mold clean up even more.

Facilities’ $275,000 reserve fund is nearly empty because of $190,000 it used to replace the fine arts center’s fire alarm system this summer.

Shoenfelt suggested Western rethink its priorities.

“. I think it’s great that we’re doing a lot of new building, that we’re renovating the dorms. But I’ve spent 20 years, 40 to 60 hours a week, in this office, and it’s really important that it is a safe environment,” she said.

Reach Dave Shinall at [email protected]