Students find mold in honors dorm

By Kaye Burnet | The Duquesne Duke A handle for opening a window in Assumption is stuck closed and covered in mold and rust. Broken windows are a common problem in the 65-year-old dorm.

By Kaye Burnet | The Duquesne Duke
A handle for opening a window in Assumption is stuck closed and covered in mold and rust. Broken windows are a common problem in the 65-year-old dorm.

By Kaye Burnet | News Editor

In the past year, several students living in Assumption Hall, the oldest dormitory on campus, have been faced with mold contamination, broken showers, leaking ceilings and windows that do not open, among other difficulties. These problems have persisted despite repeated attempts to bring them to the attention of residence life officials, according to Assumption residents.

Ana Brandt, who lives on the first floor Stevenson Street wing of Assumption, arrived back from winter break to an unpleasant surprise.

“The maintenance guys came in, and put a plastic sheet on our window,” Brandt said. “They didn’t say why, they just said they were trying something with a plastic covering.”

It was days later when Brandt learned from a residence life staff member what the sheeting was all about.

“[The staff member] told us they found mold on windows over break, and our room was one of the worst,” Brandt said. The staff member declined to be interviewed, citing a fear of jeopardizing future employment.

University spokeswoman Bridget Fare said residence life and maintenance respond to building complaints as quickly as possible. She also pointed out that Duquesne plans to make major renovations to the Assumption bathrooms in 2017, and will replace all windows in the dormitory by the end of 2016.

The Center for Disease Control states on its website that mold growth is harmless to most people, but in some cases can cause upper respiratory problems, especially for those with asthma or compromised immune systems.

“When mold is reported, the Department of Facilities Management removes it immediately, investigates the potential source and also follows up to minimize or prevent a reoccurrence,” Fare wrote in an email to The Duke.

Photo courtesy of Madeleine Wood Sophomore Madeleine Wood was able to grow large mold spores in a Petri dish with samples taken from a wall on the first floor of Assumption Hall.

Photo courtesy of Madeleine Wood
Sophomore Madeleine Wood was able to grow large mold spores in a Petri dish with samples taken from a wall on the first floor of Assumption Hall.

According to Duquesne’s website, Assumption Hall is more than 65 years old. It can house approximately 300 students, and is used as an honors dorm for the freshman members of Duquesne’s Honors College. Prices for rooms range from $4,621 per semester for a single to $2,498 for a triple, plus a mandatory $2,596 meal plan.

In early September, freshman physician assistant major Lauren Hensler said she was sitting in her room on the first floor of Assumption when water began leaking from the ceiling onto her desk. When she alerted maintenance, she said they did not provide a lasting solution.

“They just put on of those big garbage cans under it,” she said. “They said they couldn’t fix the problem without removing part of the ceiling, so they just left it.”

Hensler said she felt lucky that she was in her room when the leak started.

“I was angry – my computer was right there, it could’ve been destroyed,” Hensler said.

Sophomore forensics science major Madeleine Wood lived in Assumption during her freshman year. Her room was located across from the bathroom on the first floor, and during September 2014, she noticed something unusual about the paint on the wall next to the bathroom.

“There were these bubbles under the paint with yellow liquid coming out,” Wood recalled.

Wood was concerned that the bubbling was related to the moisture that would build up on the wall, which was located opposite the showers in the bathroom. She bought a home mold test kit, and used a sample from the wall to test for spores.

“It was so gross,” Wood said. “The mold started growing in the dish, and it just didn’t stop.”

Consumer Reports cautions that home mold tests sometimes return false positives. However, Wood reported the problem to her Resident Assistant, who then alerted the building’s Resident Director, Nick DuBos. Within a few days, maintenance staff scraped down the wall and covered it with fresh, wet plaster.

Wood watched for weeks as the plaster failed to dry – the wall was too wet with moisture from the bathroom.

“Eventually they just painted over it,” Wood said. “And then it started bubbling up again.”

A year later, first floor residents were still noticing the bubbling. Kat Schrock, a physical therapy major, and Morgan Connell, a pharmacy major, currently live on Assumption’s first floor. Schrock said that as the weather became colder at the end of the fall semester, the air on her wing became increasingly humid and moist.

“Most of the windows either don’t open or shut,” Schrock said, which she claimed makes it difficult to ventilate rooms and causes odors to build up in rooms and hallways.

There are three shower stalls on each wing in Assumption, usually shared by more than 30 residents. According to Schrock and Connell, the women on their floor were forced to split only two showers for the beginning of the semester, since one was closed for maintenance. Then, in the middle of the semester, another shower was closed for maintenance.

“When they took out the ceiling panel above the showers [to make repairs], you could see the mold growing there,” Connell said.

According to Fare, the second shower was closed for less than 36 hours to allow grouting and sealing to dry after a maintenance crew to fixed a broken pipe.

Wood said that, as an honors student, she was expecting better accommodations for living and studying.

“They shouldn’t advertise this as a perk of being in the Honors College,” Wood said.

4 Responses to "Students find mold in honors dorm"

  1. Anon  January 22, 2016 at 12:53 am

    I’m a senior now and the problems at Duquesne have been overblown by the Duke so far. This one is actually serious for health reasons. This University has so much potential and it’s a constant punchline to its students. I’m optimistic that Gormley’s administration will fix a majority of the problems, especially ones like these that SHOULD NOT exist at a private university.

    Reply
  2. Bonnie DeBiasio  January 21, 2016 at 4:04 pm

    Changing windows at the end of 2016 and bathroom renovations in 2017 does NOTHING to fix the issues now. It is a disgrace that the top academics students at Duquesne are subjected to these living conditions, while paying a ridiculous amount for room and board. Improvements need to be made immediately.

    Reply
  3. Jacob  January 21, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    Physician assistant* not physician’s

    Reply
    • The Duquesne Duke
      The Duquesne Duke  January 21, 2016 at 4:37 pm

      Thanks for catching that Jacob, we’ve corrected the mistake.

      Reply

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