Black Mold enrolls at SMCC

By Karsten Rees

This summer has been one of the most humid and uncomfortable on record, thanks in part to a rare weather pattern. The Bermuda High is a wind current that takes warm, humid, Caribbean air and circulates it into the Atlantic. This year, the Bermuda High had a change of heart and decided to point itself towards the North. This surprising — if not impolite — change has resulted in discomfort for New Englanders. When humidity levels are this high, the body’s ability to cool itself is compromised. Despite a summer with no major heat waves and an unremarkable average temperature, coastal New England has experienced almost record humidity levels.

People may not have been thriving, but at Spring Point Residence Hall, black mold found its opportunity to flourish when the ventilation system malfunctioned.

The Energy Recovery Ventilator™ was an expensive piece of equipment responsible for exchanging old, stale air from inside Spring Point for new, fresh air from outside. Malfunctions in ERVs aren’t uncommon, especially when they’re overworked during summers. When the ERV stopped working, new air was pumped directly into Spring Point without first being dehumidified. Mold began to grow after the water-laden air was cooled by air conditioning and began to condense on ceiling tiles. In an interview, SMCC Director of Communications Clarke Canfield called the combination of humidity, heat and broken ERV the “perfect storm” for a pre-semester panic.

Summer-semester students were hurriedly evacuated from Spring Point shortly after administrative staff heard about the mold. Initial tests revealed the extent of the damage, leaving staff in the midst of a logistical crisis only a week away from the first day of fall classes. Finding 300-plus hotel rooms in the Portland area with limited staff and only days before move-in day was, in Canfield’s words, a “trial by fire for the administrative staff.” Somehow, they managed to locate six hotels with access to bus routes.

Commutes range in length; by car, some are as short as 20-25 minutes while bus rides can be up to two hours in length. Many students without cars waste hours between classes in the Noisy Lounge or just generally loitering around campus. Canfield says that “students have been understandably upset, but most understand the situation and are making the most of it.”

Black Mold Comes to Campus
Illustration by Alex Downing

Notable exceptions include the four students that staged a protest over the college’s handling over the situation. The small group of students has accused the college of lacking transparency around the issue, alleging that the administration was made aware of the mold situation and put students at risk by taking action too slowly. Canfield negates this, saying that the college took decisive action immediately. Servpro, an HVAC/disaster relief company, was contracted to survey and repair damage. Servpro has made the project a priority, working around the clock, even going so far as to hire out-of-state workers on the project. It’s unclear how much their services will cost, as repairs are not complete.

Money aside, official estimates suggest that students should be able to move into their Spring Point dorm rooms within the next 2-3 weeks. Until then, students are encouraged to enjoy their hotel pools and continue to make the most out of their housing situations.

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