By Kaylee Lindenmuth
During the free hour on Thursday, Sept. 27, passersby could find faculty at the entrance to Lytle Hall at a table with two tri-folds, another informational display and a “Stench-O-Meter” – a yellow piece of plywood with an adjustable arrow. The meter asks, “What does Lytle smell like today?” with options such as Lytle Hall, old fish, a wet dog and fresh-baked cookies.
Inside the front stairwell entrance sat a box fan whirring in front of a Keystone newsstand, which Dr. Amy Lynch-Biniek said was intended to help with humidity issues and the resulting smell. Without it, she said that faculty thought the building would smell like a pool.
Lynch-Biniek, Dr. Kevin Mahoney and Dr. Robert Kilker presented photos on a tri-fold of mold and water damage in the building. The photographs were taken on Sept. 18.
The persistent mold and humidity aren’t the only issues this semester. Yellow jackets have been present in the building. A pile of them lies dead on the windowsill in Dr. Jonathan Shaw’s second-floor office.
Shaw said efforts have been taken by KU Facilities to alleviate the issues, and they are much appreciated, noting they have been responsive. However, the issues remain persistent, and a true solution needs to be found.
“This is part of our issue. The building has problems that reoccur, and they put patches on those problems, but they haven’t invested enough in it to make those problems go away,” said Lynch-Biniek. “It’s a perpetual problem that we’re frustrated with.”
The faculty asked students to write about their experiences on notecards which will be forwarded to administration.
“We’re hoping that students will air their concerns because I think they’ll listen more,” said Kilker.
Schools across the commonwealth have seen mold issues this year as a result of an abnormally rainy summer, many of which delayed the start of their school year to remediate the issues. In Schuylkill County, on Aug. 28, Pottsville’s John S. Clarke Elementary School closed on its second day of the year after mold was discovered. The school reopened on Sept. 4.
In Western Pennsylvania, schools in Avella were closed from Sept. 20 to Sept. 24, and Burgettstown remains closed as of our deadline. Both as a result of mold and a resulting cleanup.
According to Lynch-Biniek, some faculty members believe they’ve suffered health issues because of the building’s condition, fitting the bill of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s symptoms of “Sick Building Syndrome” distributed at the table.
“Many of us have allergies and asthma and respiratory problems that are aggravated by it,” said Lynch-Biniek.
Lynch-Biniek continued, “Many of us suspect that we have more serious issues that are aggravated by the building, and we don’t necessarily have the concrete evidence that that’s the case, but for instance, Dr. [Colleen] Clemens wrote on her card, she was on sabbatical last year and felt very healthy, and the moment she came back, her allergies returned.”
Faculty members have had the opportunity to move to other spaces across campus, but those who remain in Lytle say it’s to remain close to colleagues in their department.
What they ask of the university, as a Lytle replacement has beenauthorized by the Commonwealth, is for “Management to work with us to find safe, hospitable spaces on campus for our offices, and perhaps even classes, in reasonable proximity to each other,” according to their tri-folds.
“We would like the Administration to advocate on our behalf with the PA State System of Higher Education, getting a new Lytle Hall project moved towards the top of the project list, making it a priority, given our health concerns and space issues,” added the tri-fold.
According to Professor Michael Gambone, the project to replace Lytle isn’t publicly listed by the Commonwealth, though KU noted at the beginning of the semester that it had been authorized.