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Harboring Mold

Community College Closes Parts of Harbor Campus Building Due to Mold Contamination

Frank Klein
NO CLASS: Baltimore City Community College closed the second and third floors of its Bard Building in September 2005.

By Randy Leonard | Posted 4/5/2006

You wouldn’t know by walking in the door of the Bard Building of Baltimore City Community College’s Harbor Campus, on the corner of East Lombard Street and Market Place, that the building is contaminated with mold. In fact, if you asked the security guard at the front desk why the second floor is not accessible, he probably couldn’t tell you. But in 2005, potentially toxic mold was identified in the building, and now the entire second and third floors have been closed, offices relocated, and equipment disinfected. College administrators are saying little about the situation, however, and students have not been told why their classes have been moved.

Contrary to the claims of facilities staff, the presence of mold in the Bard Building has been a problem for nearly a decade, according to school faculty members.

“The mold has been here for a long time,” says Sally Dimarco, coordinator for the Apparel Technology department. During her 28 years as a Baltimore City Community College employee, Dimarco says the situation has been brought to the attention of two administrations twice—both in the past decade.

“They were aware of it and they refused to do anything about the problem because it was just too expensive,” she says. “There were years when I would return to the campus and, in our design labs downstairs, there was green mold everywhere.” When she complained of “black stuff” on the ceiling tiles, Dimarco says, the tiles would be removed and replaced.

In 2001, the college put forward a $2.5 million plan to permanently fix a problem with water leaks in the building. “That concept was not adopted, so no work was done,” says Joseph Isaac, executive director of the school’s facilities, planning, and operations.

But when library personnel reported seeing mold on the law books on the second floor last May, the college finally gave the situation some serious attention. The college hired an environmental firm, Advanced Air Analysis, to analyze the concentration and types of mold present in the library. On Aug. 2, 2005, before the sampling results were returned, Computer and Information Technology Services staff reported seeing mold on the third floor of the Bard Building, prompting additional sampling, this time on each of the building’s five floors.

According to a Nov. 11, 2005, memo released by the college’s interim president, Richard M. Turner III, samples collected from the second, third, and fourth floors were heavily contaminated with three types of mold: aspergillus, penicillium, and cladosporium. Due to the confirmed presence of mold, the college closed the second and third floors of the building—moving part of the library to the first floor, Computer and Information Technology Services to the Liberty Campus on Liberty Heights Avenue, and Apparel Technology from the third floor to the fifth floor of the Bard Building before classes began on Sept. 6.

Once word of the mold was passed to college faculty and staff, several employees working in the Bard Building came forward with health concerns.

“There were complaints from several either faculty and/or staff,” Isaac says. “As a result we contacted Concentra [health services].” According to Isaac, the state medical director spoke to the Bard Building occupants about the issues with mold. Various human-resources staff and administrators refused to comment on the details of staff health complaints.

According to Isaac, there was no identification of stachybotrys—a toxin-producing black mold—in the samples collected from the Bard Building, but both aspergillus and penicillium have been linked to health problems. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, infections caused by inhaled aspergillus spores can be fatal, though susceptibility to such infections is mainly restricted to those with immune deficiencies. Molds of the penicillium variety have been associated with such health problems as pneumonia and urinary tract infections. Harriet Ammann, senior toxicologist at Washington State Department of Health and an expert on indoor mold contamination, says some species of aspergillus and penicillium can produce mycotoxins, chemicals that, when inhaled or ingested by humans, can be toxic, mutagenic, or carcinogenic.

Despite the fact that some faculty members say they have been dealing with mold at the Bard Building for a decade, Isaac says that’s not the case. He acknowledges that water has been leaking into the building for years, but he says this is the first time mold has been identified as a problem.

“We’ve had infiltration of water in the building, but not to this extent—never with mold,” he says. According to Isaac, the Bard Building, built in 1977, was poorly designed and constructed. He cites the terra cotta tile siding and a wall sitting at a 45-degree angle as the main culprits in allowing water into the building. “The actual design of that wall is a California-style design,” he says, “and is not for this weather, climate, we have here.”

Maryland law requires that, since the college is state-funded, the state Department of General Services manage building projects exceeding $25,000. The Bard Building mold-remediation and renovation project is expected to cost about $22 million, Isaac says. Turner requested permission from General Services to use emergency procurement procedures to speed up the cleanup of the building. The school submitted a “deficiency appropriation request” for $1.5 million from the state to begin the first phase of remediation. The request is expected to be approved as part of the governor’s budget this month.

According to Solomon Ikotun, the college’s current project manager for the cleanup, Morris and Ritchie Associates, a consulting and design firm hired by the college, is continuing to assess the extent of mold contamination in the Bard Building. Once the assessment is complete, the company will present plans for Phase I of the cleanup, which it expects can be completed by fall 2007. The second phase of the remediation, if funded by the state, would begin in the coming years, and would include re-cladding the entire building to keep water out.

In the meantime, Sally Dimarco says that students and faculty are dealing with the disruption to their classes and schedules as best they can.

“We started classes one week late, but [the students] understood and they don’t complain,” she says. The one complaint she has heard? “The design labs are too small.”

Other teachers, like English professor Ann Frazier, are looking forward to getting back to their own offices and classrooms eventually. For Frazier, there may even be an upside to all the inconvenience. “They might actually paint my office,” she says.

Additional reporting by Wayne Dixon. Randall Leonard is a former student at Baltimore City Community College, and Dixon is still a student there. This story was written to appear in Baltimore City Community College’s student newspaper, The College Crier. The administration, however, did not allow the paper to print the story.

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