Some students bothered by University’s handling of mold in Foster-Walker Complex


Leah Dunlevy/The Daily Northwestern

The outside of Foster-Walker Complex. Some students living in the building said they are concerned Northwestern is not giving adequate attention to reports of mold.

Tori Latham, Features Editor

Some students living in Foster-Walker Complex said they are concerned the University isn’t giving adequate attention to reports of mold in the residential hall.

Ally O’Donnell, a McCormick sophomore who lives in the building, said she first noticed mold growing in her room soon after she moved in at the beginning of the school year. After mentioning the problem to her resident assistant, who called to have the mold inspected, O’Donnell said someone showed up to her room and affirmed the mold needed to be taken care of, but nobody came to clean it.

O’Donnell said the situation was not properly addressed until her mother got involved and communicated with the University.

“I bought a mold spray to wipe down all my furniture, and that’s when I noticed there were massive amounts of mold under my desk,” O’Donnell said. “It wasn’t just a little; it was so gross.”

A University official spoke with O’Donnell’s mother, and people were sent to clean the room, but there were certain areas with mold they were unable to clean, O’Donnell said. Eventually, they came to replace the furniture that had the mold on it, she added.

Paul Riel, assistant vice president for residential and dining services, said he was unaware of this specific instance but said it did not sound like the officials O’Donnell interacted with handled it as usual.

“On the face of it, this is certainly not our protocol,” Riel said. “We take these claims seriously when they occur.”

Neil Dixit, a Weinberg sophomore who also lives in Plex, has also dealt with mold growing in his room this year but said the situation had been taken care of.

Dixit said he requested the mold be cleaned through SchoolDude, a system the University uses for students to put in maintenance requests for residential buildings on campus. Somebody came in to clean his room and said they knew mold had been an ongoing problem in Plex, he said.

Although Dixit said he was not expecting any follow-up from the University after the initial cleaning, he said he was concerned other students are also dealing with the problem.

“When you put in a SchoolDude, there’s a lag in getting it taken care of, and the fact that people know about it and haven’t taken care of it (is concerning),” Dixit said.

O’Donnell said she also heard from the people who came to clean her room mold has been a problem in the building.

Emily Patnaude, who lives in the same part of Plex as O’Donnell, also said she has mold in her room. Patnaude said it seemed like students and University officials were not on the same page.

“People who lived here previously said it’s always been an issue, that it’s nothing new,” the McCormick sophomore said. “Facilities said this is the first they’d heard of it.”

Typically, Riel said, reports of mold are followed up by a visual inspection and passed off to a third party that tests the space for mold. He said there have recently been a few calls concerning air quality in Plex, but the rooms were ultimately found to not contain mold. Most of the time, the third party company determines nothing is there, he added.

Mark D’Arienzo, senior associate director of Residential Services’ Administrative Services Team, was in contact with O’Donnell and her mother when they first expressed concern, he said. After he spoke with them, he said he alerted Residential Services’ Facilities and Construction Team to the situation.

D’Arienzo said he was aware of the protocol Riel outlined, but could not say whether it was followed once he handed the situation off to Facilities and Construction. He said he has heard of five or six complaints this quarter from students in Plex about mold.

John D’Angelo, vice president of Facilities Management, and Johnathan Winters, associate director of Residential Services who oversees the Facilities and Construction Team, deferred comment to Riel.

After the mold was taken care of in O’Donnell’s room, Patnaude said she expected an email to be sent out to students living in the area, alerting them to the situation, but one never came. She said she is still dealing with the mold in her room, and efforts to clean it have not gotten rid of it fully.

Riel said these instances of mold are generally isolated to one room, but if they occur in larger spaces, such as a common room, the University would do more about it and tell students.

However, Patnaude said she wasn’t so sure.

“The only way to get it fixed is if you come to them,” she said.

D’Arienzo emphasized this is because of the large number of students living on campus. Individual administrators are unable to constantly monitor the situation in all rooms without students reaching out, he said.

According to Northwestern’s Master Housing Plan, Plex will undergo a full renovation starting in 2019.

“The important thing is that if students do have issues in their room, that they let us know about it,” D’Arienzo said. “There are far more rooms than there are us.”

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