Groups relocate due to fungal contamination

by Mike Oakes

The University has signed a contract with Ryan Companies to renovate Coffman Memorial Union with a completion date slated for Fall 2002, said Maggie Towle, director of Twin Cities Student Unions on Monday.
Meanwhile, student groups housed in 720 Washington Ave. will be moving a block east to the Stadium Village Mall this week after a Department of Environmental Health and Safety report indicated significant levels of fungal contamination in basement offices.
University officials speculate that the renovation of Coffman will begin this spring.
Details of the contract were not available Monday.
Tests of the 720 Washington Ave. offices conducted last month by the DEHS confirmed fungal contamination in portions of the carpet, ceiling and water-damaged sheetrock, according to the DEHS report.
The outbreaks originated from several floods during the past year, including a burst pipe from an above restaurant, pressure-washing leaks from another overhead restaurant, and other leaks that remain unresolved.
Because outbreaks of fungal contamination can cause health problems, University officials say the move is imperative. But most student group members say with the start of a new semester, the move’s timing couldn’t be worse.
Environmental concerns
Before the student groups moved into 720 Washington Ave., DEHS officials ran preliminary tests of the basement. They discovered and removed small concentrations of fungal contamination.
But University and DEHS officials said they don’t feel comfortable moving University groups back into the basement after the latest outbreak.
“At least in part, the solution would rely on compliance or behavior modification by the people that are handling water in spaces above there,” said Neil Carlson, a DEHS industrial hygienist.
“Since we can’t control (restaurant employees’) behavior, it’s not something we feel comfortable moving people back into.”
DEHS officials have also done a preliminary walk-through of the Stadium Village Mall space at 825 Washington Ave. and found some water infiltration problems near windows on the east side.
The department is working to combat those problems now, and this spring it will work to address the underlying cause of the water infiltration, Carlson said.
ChackÇ Scallen, property manager for the 720 Washington Ave. building, said the contamination problem is common in area buildings.
“Our environmental engineer assured us that this problem has occurred in many, many buildings,” she said, “and could be readily corrected.
“The University didn’t want to have it corrected, they wanted to move.”
Scallen said she already has calls from new tenants wanting to move in.
The Twin Cities Student Unions are picking up the cost of the move, as well as the difference between the cost of rent in the Stadium Village Mall and the rent student groups paid in Coffman Union.
That arrangement was the same when the groups moved from Coffman Union into 720 Washington Ave.
Towle said although she doesn’t know the exact price of rent at Stadium Village Mall, she said it will be higher because they are moving from a basement location into a newer building.
It was not known Monday night whether the University will continue to pay rent at 720 Washington Ave., or whether that lease becomes invalid due to the contamination.
For the various student groups that called these basement offices home for more than a year, this marks the second relocation since the Student Union closed for renovation in November 1999.
“The hardest thing about this is that we have to do it right at the beginning of classes,” said Patrick Peterson, Minnesota Student Association DEF Grant chair.
The move also comes as student groups vie for University dollars.
“I certainly think it’s bad for Coffman right now that they have to move during the fees committee process,” Peterson said.
Megan Thomas, a University alumna who works in the building’s basement, said she’s happy with TCSU’s reaction to the problem.
“They’ve been really good responding; it’s been quick,” she said. “They’re facilitating this getting done very well.”
But Peterson said he doesn’t think the move has been well-coordinated thus far.
“I don’t think the information dissemination process was handled very well,” Peterson said. “There’s no direction. There’s no support group here to help.”

Mike Oakes welcomes comments at [email protected]