COLLEGE PARK – As if the University of Maryland didn’t have enough turmoil to deal with, students living in several dormitories on the main campus in College Park have had to face a mold outbreak early in the fall semester.
The buildings most affected by mold are concentrated in the Denton Community, a block of dormitories located across from Capital One Field. While students have reported isolated cases of mold in other dorms, Elkton Hall became the epicenter of the crisis. In one building, the case was severe enough that the university evacuated students to nearby hotels to accommodate clean-up efforts.
The university names “the significant rain and high humidity in our area” as a contributing factor, according to a memo distributed by Department of Residential Life on Oct. 11.
While the Elkton clean-up has been completed, and all residents have returned as of Oct. 9, the university is still reeling from the effects of the outbreak.
“There are people on the fifth and seventh floor who have found traces of mold still on their stuff,” said Elkton resident Josh Ridgely.
“I know some people whose laundry actually got mold because they didn’t hang them up and it was just sitting in the laundry bins,” said Thomas Nguyen, a student living in nearby Cumberland Hall.
Some Elkton residents, such as Brian Escobar, have come up with their own solutions.
“Humidity doesn’t really go away,” Escobar said. “…Humidity’s always there unless you’re being proactive to battle the situation. I have a dehumidifier in my room, but there’s other people that don’t.”
ResLife received the first reports of mold in Elkton Hall during the week of Sept. 19. Isolated incidents of mold are not unusual during the summer, according to Department Director Andrea Crabb. As the calls flooded in, however, it became clear that this was anything but isolated.
“We started seeing a high volume of calls for mold, and then when we went out and were inspecting, we’re realizing that it was much larger than what we normally deal with,” said Crabb.
There are no regulations in the state of Maryland regarding the handling of mold, either on building surfaces or in the air, so the university had little to go on to coordinate their response. Per a report from The Diamondback, at least three housekeepers in Elkton have already filed for worker’s compensation, claiming they were improperly trained and equipped for the situation.
“I’m not a medical doctor, so I can’t comment on that,” said Crabb. “I can say that anyone who came to us that they weren’t feeling well, we put them on a different task or removed them.”
During the first week of October, Elkton Hall’s 533 residents – mostly first-year students – were grouped by floor and transported by shuttle to three different hotels near campus. They stayed for three to four days while an outside contracting firm disinfected the building, floor by floor from the top down.
Surrounding dorms such as Cumberland have also suffered mold, though not to the extent suffered by Elkton. There, housekeepers have dealt with the situation on a case-by-case basis.
“I know that they’ve been going around for people who’ve specifically asked for it,” said Nguyen. “If you call a number, they’ll send people to look around and clean up.”
The incident has highlighted a growing concern that the university’s residences have become outdated. Though it opened in 1966, Elkton Hall’s age does not even approach that of some of its contemporaries at UMD. Both Baltimore and Charles Halls, for example, have operated since 1920 without any major renovation. The average age for Maryland’s dorms is 65.1 years, and not one of them has seen a serious upgrade since Somerset Hall’s reopening in 2002.
This fall, the cracks in the system are starting to show. Besides the mold outbreak, those living in the North Hill section of campus have had to deal with stifling heat in their older dormitories, which do not feature air conditioning. Students have resorted to sleeping in the comfort of their building’s air-conditioned student lounge. UMD’s ResLife Department also allowed its North Hill residents to sleep in the multipurpose rooms in Annapolis and Denton Halls – the former of which is mainly an information center for the department and not an actual residence hall.
“We make sure that each building, if it doesn’t have air conditioning, has a room which has some air conditioning,” said Crabb. “We set those up so that anybody who couldn’t deal with the heat could sleep in an air-conditioned space.”
Despite the drastic steps the university has taken during both cases, students are still burned by the entire affair and feel that the university could do more. There are continuing reports of illnesses from mold-related infections, while others have moved to other dorms to escape.
“They could definitely do more to address the situation,” said Escobar. “We’re paying room and board for moldy rooms.”
“I think the only thing they could do for next year is to make sure they tell the students how they can keep their rooms clean and not have mold be an issue,” said Ridgely. “Just…make sure the rooms are up to code before we move in, so this won’t be an issue anymore.”