After hearing complaints from upset students and faculty, workers from the physical plant worked through the weekend to repair the mold-damaged photography lab.
Lou Marcus, a professor in the college of fine arts, said the lab, which was closed on Oct. 8, was deemed safe and reopened Monday afternoon.
“(The physical plant) did a lot of work. We were pleased,” Marcus said. “We were pleased with the responsiveness.”
Marcus said the physical plant, which was criticized for being slow to correct the problem, was forced into action due to complaints from the people who use the lab on a regular basis.
“It probably was helpful the students took some action on this,” he said. “I sort of suspect the little bit of political pressure that was put on the situation helped a lot.”
Marcus said among the ongoing repairs is the replacement of the old, moldy ceiling tiles with new tiles that are made of a mold-resistant material. He said while the problem is not completely solved, air quality meters indicate a much better environment for students.
“Hopefully this improvement in air quality (will stay),” Marcus said. “There are some things that still need attention and are going to get attention in the next week or two.”
Wally Wilson, chairman of the art department, said he was pleased the repairs were made in a timely manner.
“(We had) a checklist of problems and found that they had (made) 98 percent of the changes,” Wilson said. “They’ve really, to my mind, done an excellent job.”
In a memo to the faculty, Wilson revealed what work has not yet been completed. Amongst the work yet to be done is pipe insulation and the sealing of walls through which water may leak.
Wilson said problems with the building may be traced to a renovation done by an off campus contractor. He said some of the work was believed not to have been done correctly. He said often in cases such as the one that closed the lab, problems reoccur.”It’s an old building, and there have been some major renovations over the years,” Wilson said. “We ended up, in every case, having problems later on.”
Wilson said after hearing discouragement from student and faculty, he now believes they feel safe returning to the lab. He said the current work will only temporarily fix the problem.
“(Workers) put a good solid stop to this problem,” Wilson said. “I don’t know about the long term solution, but I’m glad this one has been stopped.”
Albert Booken, a maintenance supervisor at the USF physical plant, said the case of the photography lab is rare.
“It’s normally corrected before it’s gotten to that point,” Booken said. “Because there might be major construction done, things that shouldn’t be put off are put off.”
Booken said problems with contracted work sometimes occur.”Low bidders get the contract, and sometimes the low bidder in order to achieve that does what he can,” he said. “It’s totally out of the maintenance department’s hands.”
Much of the problem with the photography lab was with the ceiling tiles. Many of these tiles were covered with dark green mold. Booken said the physical plant is working on a plan in which ceiling tiles will be changed regularly.
“We don’t even like to let the tiles have wet stains on them,” he said.
Booken said the physical plant is working to handle such situations to their best capability. The goal, he said, is to improve the USF campus.
“We do take pride in our buildings,” Booken said. “Luckily (this situation) isn’t frequent. We’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got.”
Student Jennifer Armstrong, who last week expressed disapproval at the slow response to the problem, said while she hasn’t yet been back to the photography lab, she is glad work has begun.
“I found it very promising they were working,” Armstrong said. “I don’t think it’s enough as what is needed, but it’s better than nothing.”
Armstrong said she believes this temporary solution will inevitably fail, and the problem will come back.
“We’re still eventually going to be sick,” she said. “It’s just kind of a bandage on the problem.”
Armstrong said she believes in six months or so students will be sick again. She said the idea that the original contractor is to blame is one she has heard before.
“That seems to be the answer to everybody’s questions,” Armstrong said. “If you pay the cheapest price to get a building made (it’ll be poorly built). I really don’t know who to blame.”
Armstrong said she believes the university should provide more money to the Fine Arts Building, which is among the oldest on campus.
“Enrollment has jumped about 70 percent but we still get less (money),” she said. “They just built a new psychology building right next to us. That’s kind of a slap in our face.”