College officials defend response to mold problem as SMCC students rally

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SOUTH PORTLAND — A handful of students who staged a rally at Southern Maine Community College Monday night after mold was discovered in one of the dorms say they have issues with transparency by administrators, but college officials say they responded as soon as they were informed.

The discovery of mold in a 10-year-old dormitory at Southern Maine Community College has led administrators to temporarily close Spring Point Residence Hall and relocate students to other housing, including area hotels. Work to clean the building was slated to begin Tuesday, Aug. 21.

Sophomore Olivia Treadwell, a Spring Point dorm resident who organized the protest with fellow student Lauryn O’Connor, said she first noticed mold two weeks ago and is asking the school to reimburse students for laundry, summer housing and medical check-ups for those who experience symptoms that could be related to mold.

Treadwell said she has bronchitis and the autoimmune disease lupus, which she says puts her at greater risk for illness. She said it took media involvement for the school to act, and she wants the Surfsite dorm tested for mold before displaced Spring Point students move there for the fall semester.

SMCC Director of Communications Clarke Canfield, who was at the protest by four people, said as soon as the school became aware that a problem existed, students were moved from the dorm and experts were called in have the mold tested. “We’re taking steps to rectify the situation and get housing for students. We’re not hiding anything,” he said in response to some students’ claims that their posts about the mold were deleted from the school’s portal, and that there have been other instances of mold in other dormitories on campus.

Canfield said the results of the types of mold found in the dorm showed varied types of spores, and only nominal, non-threatening levels of so-called “black mold” were detected.

There is no cost estimate yet for how expensive remediating the problem will be.

SMCC closed Spring Point Residence Hall on Aug. 19 to allow a team of professionals to assess the building and test the mold that has appeared on ceiling tiles and some walls. The college has made arrangements with area hotels to house incoming students assigned there until the residence hall reopens. It is not known which hotels students will be housed in, but they will be on bus routes that lead to SMCC.

About 60 summer students who were living in the residence hall moved out of the building on Sunday and into Surfsite Residence Hall, also located on the SMCC’s South Portland Campus. Spring Point Hall has a capacity of 320 students; Surfsite Hall’s capacity is 147 students, said SMCC.

Spring Point Residence Hall is expected to be closed for three to four weeks while workers with a water cleanup and restoration company thoroughly clean the building, SMCC President Joe Cassidy said in a press release.  Work is scheduled to begin on Tuesday.

“Our first priority is the safety and well-being of our students,” Cassidy said.

“While the closure of Spring Point Hall will create some inconvenience, the residence hall will be completely environmentally safe upon their return. We are offering all our support to the affected students to ensure their success at SMCC.”

All affected students will be contacted directly to make housing arrangements.
The mold was first reported last week, the college said, and was brought on by a combination of a malfunctioning ventilation system and the high temperatures and humidity that Maine has experienced in recent weeks that resulted in condensation forming above the building’s ceiling tiles.

Students who had signed up for housing for the fall semester were scheduled to begin moving in this Friday. Classes begin Monday.

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at jlaaka@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JulietteLaaka. 

Olivia Treadwell, foreground, during a protest she organized at Southern Maine Community College.

Olivia Treadwell during a protest she organized at SMCC’s campus Monday evening.

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