Eckerd’s housing website advertises: “Ask anyone who’s been there – dorm life is an unforgettable part of college life.” For some students, housing has been unforgettable for unfavorable reasons.
Although Eckerd is dealing with an understaffed facilities department and is preparing for dorm renovations, the college’s lack of transparency about current dorm conditions concerns the health and safety of students.
Walking into a Nu room, tapestries cover the walls, posters decorate living areas. But when you take a closer peek inside the air vents, mold grows where fresh air should flow. Splotches of dirt cover the popcorn ceiling. Dust envelopes the interior of the air vent, looking as though it has not been cleaned in several months.
Students have raised concerns to the Housing Office about mold, and the facilities management team has visited the suites to evaluate the rooms. Eckerd’s business office called in Servpro, the company Eckerd hires for restoration, cleaning and disaster recovery, to deal with mold growth in Eckerd’s suite-style dorm Nu in September.
According to Associate Vice President and Associate Dean of Students Fred Sabota, the company cleaned each suite’s HVAC system. Sabota also said Nu suites 7 and 16 were placed in a hotel after requesting to be relocated during the deep cleaning.
A senior living in Nu, whom The Current gave anonymity to speak freely on the topic, had a mold outbreak in her living area. Servpro inspected her room to perform any necessary operations. The senior was in class when the company came, but her roommate was home for the process.
The steps Servpro was to take, according to its email to the room’s residents, included replacing all air filters, cleaning the supply and return duct work registers and the interior and exterior of the air handler with an antimicrobial solution and cleaning the blower assembly and evaporator coil.
“They vacuumed, but mostly just painted or spray-painted with, I don’t know if it was a mold primer or just like a paint or something, but they left paint droplets in our room, right below the vent,” the senior said.
Eckerd has not informed students if the mold in the rooms was harmful, so the senior purchased a mold testing kit and sent it to a lab for analysis. The results had not yet returned as of Nov. 3.
Buildings in Florida attract mold due to high levels of moisture from the humidity.
“For these people, molds can cause nasal stuffiness, throat irritation, coughing or wheezing, eye irritation, or, in some cases, skin irritation. People with mold allergies may have more severe reactions,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website (CDC) on how mold can affect a person’s health.
Eckerd sent an email to Nu residents Oct. 24 saying they were bringing an industrial hygienist. She assessed every room in Nu and was available on Oct. 25 in the ECOS Conference Room for students to visit and answer questions and concerns about the condition of their suites. Sabota said only residents from one suite attended, and attributed it to being a quick, one-day turnaround.
This is not the first time Eckerd has seen evidence of mold in living spaces. It was found in Alpha in 2012, Beta and Gamma in 2013, when students became ill. Last year in Epsilon Dalton, a bathroom was closed due to black mold.
According to Sabota, Eckerd tries to react to dorm issues as soon as it is aware of them, but mold is still present in students’ living spaces in Nu.
Delta Copley sweating it out
The air conditioning in Delta Copley was out before fall break. The first work order was placed on Oct. 5, according to Resident Adviser (RA) Paul Marceski* in Copley.
There was only one worker on-call according to first-year Fionna Shea, so it wasn’t until the fourth day without it that a worker responded to the issue. Students opened windows, hung out in the hallways and slept in the lounge to endure the heat in their rooms.
“One night the couch was empty so I went and slept on the couch. And then the next night, I just could not sleep in my dorm because it was really gross. So I took my entire mattress out and put it in the lounge and I slept there,”first-year Jack Huddleston said.
Last year the dorm had similar issues with air conditioning not reaching certain rooms, according to senior Tasha Pearce, who lived in Delta Copley last year.
Omega suite not so sweet
Delta is not the only dorm facing air conditioning issues. Omega suites have individual air conditioning systems, unlike traditional dorms, but the main HVAC unit is interconnected throughout all of the complex’s suites.
Senior Omega resident Ainsley Bright has had problems with her suite since she arrived move-in weekend. She said her refrigerator was rusty, moldy and missing multiple handles. Bright also said half of the furniture was missing, the dishwasher did not work properly, the ceiling was dusty, the bathtub would not drain and all the suite’s fire alarms were beeping and without batteries, among other problems.
Bright moved into Omega on Aug. 31, and when she realized the air conditioning was broken, Bright said that her mom called the Campus Safety Office. Bright said her mom was forwarded to Housing and Community Standards Specialist Delaney Bentley, Sabota and Head of Maintenance Christopher Pille about all of the issues. She said the workers fixed the problem, but that the airflow did not get cold until the next day.
Omega is a common air conditioning system, controlled by the same chiller. It is scheduled to be replaced this academic school year, but the exact date has not yet been confirmed, Sabota said.
According to documents obtained by The Current, Bright’s parents sent an email to Sabota on Sept. 2 detailing all the issues found in the room. Fourteen were listed, including health and safety hazards.
Sabota responded on Sept. 3. saying facilities was contacted to repair the issues and that he forwarded the email to the Business Office as an appeal for a housing refund. After not having heard from Sabota by Sept. 10, Bright’s parents followed up via email.
“We feel Eckerd is taking advantage of its students. You are asking them to pay high housing rates yet provide them with substandard living conditions,” Bright’s parents said in the email to Sabota.
Bright and her roommates went three weeks with the reported room issues before their appeal was reviewed and denied.
“Your appeal has been reviewed, and while Facilities, Housing and the Business Office remain committed to addressing any remaining concerns in Omega 310, it was determined that none of the issues in the suite rose to a level of significance nor duration to warrant a refund. We, therefore, are unable to honor your request for a pro-rated refund of Ainsley’s Housing charges,” Adam Colby said in an email on Sept. 20, 18 days after the initial email was sent.
Colby provided Bright with options to move out of Omega and into a traditional double room or provide her with a semester housing refund if she moved off campus.
Bright said her air conditioning broke three more times after the beginning of the semester. The third time it broke, the on-call maintenance worker said the room’s air conditioning could not be fixed because the central unit that connects all of the dorms is not functioning properly and the company in charge will not respond, according to Bright.
“I am really angry. I don’t like living without air conditioning. It’s hot in here. Sometimes it gets in the high 80s,” Bright said.
According to Sabota, all major items that affected the quality of life were repaired, but a few minor things like knicks in furniture have not been addressed.
The college is working on draft budgets to renovate the Omega and Nu residence halls, but they remain too costly to take on now, according to President Donald Eastman.
Delta Berkley takes cold showers
Junior Ally Coughlan lives in Delta Berkeley, a dorm that did not have hot water when she moved in, and rarely has it.
Delta residents put in multiple work orders to fix the problem, which were completed, lasted for roughly three weeks and was out again on Nov. 2, Coughlan said. During these times, students travel to other houses in Delta to shower.
“I don’t shower as much as I normally would shower just because it’s such a hassle to grab all my stuff. I had to bring my ID key so I can swipe in and swipe out and not be locked out in, like, a towel or something,” Coughlan said.
According to junior and Delta Berkeley RA Natalie Turiczek, the facilities department has had trouble since roughly half of its staff quit following Eckerd’s partnership with a new facilities company.
On July 1, Eckerd switched partnerships from C&W Services to Sodexo Facility Services. The facilities management is new, while the frontline staff did not change.
While shifting to the new system for submitting work orders, Sabota said the system glitched during the beginning of the semester and could also be a potential reason for facilities being backed up.
“So, to me, this meant patience and that they were doing their best, but that information was not given to the campus so no one understood why stuff was taking so long,” Turiczek said in a text message.
*Paul Marceski was formerly a staff member with The Current, and still works as a contributor with the paper.