University Reacts to Development of Mold


The Belle Air Yearbook’s offices have been hit particularly hard. The club believes $27,300 worth of damage has impacted their office space, equipment and archives.

Emily Cox

The University’s Offices of Maintenance and Residence Life received reports of mold in dorm rooms in the first few weeks of school. Over the past two months, these reports have grown. Mold has been reported to be growing from the air conditioning units in individual rooms in Caughlin Hall, Stanford Hall, Good Counsel Hall, Moriarty Hall, Sullivan Hall, Sheehan Hall, Austin Hall, and Fedigan Hall. Although the mold situation has been the big news on campus for the past few weeks, Robert Morro, Vice President for Facilities Management, reports that “less than 15% of dorm rooms on campus” have been affected by it. 

Many concerns from students revolve around why the mold seems to be abundant in many rooms in many different buildings. Morro explained the thorough cleaning process maintenance conducts each year to check dorms before students move in.

“At the beginning of every year before the students come back, we inspect every room to make sure it’s clean before students come in,” he said. “We check things like blinds and sinks and all that stuff. In one or two rooms we usually find mold because over the summer some rooms are used for summer school, summer camps or some are not used at all. We check the conditions of the rooms before the start of school to make sure all the rooms are clean.”

Although each dorm room gets checked for health and safety before move-in, this year has seen an unprecedented amount of mold reports. “Since freshman have moved in, we’ve had a few calls about mold, and then in the last two weeks — with all the rainy weather -— we’ve had an increase in mold concerns,” Morro said. 

Tom DeMarco, Dean of Students and Assistant Vice President for Residence Life spoke about the weather issue at hand. “As of September, we have had twice the amount of annual rainfall in the Philadelphia region, and we still have three months to go,” he said. In Morro’s 16 years in the maintenance department at the University, he commented that he has never seen a mold issue like this on campus. 

DeMarco and Morro both emphasized the issue of the humid and rainy weather that has affected the individual air conditioning units in each room. Water is the stimulant in creating a suitable environment for mold growth. 

“Sometimes if students have been leaving the window open, even a crack, the warm air comes in and goes over the air conditioning,” Morro explained. “So, there’s condensation on the vent.” It has been this increased moisture in the air, that has been allowed into rooms by students, that has created mold growth in rooms according to administrators. 

Emily Sprague ’21 commented, “Everyone I have dealt with has been very accommodating and has taken responsibility for the issues.” She also added “My RA was really helpful about the whole thing. She even offered to call maintenance for us.”

If students see mold, they are directed by Residence Assistants to contact maintenance to get the situation cleaned. “If we get a call about a concern for mold, my mechanics go in and look around and try to find the source of moisture,” Morro said. “We then fix it and clean the room. Because we’ve had an increase in the amount of complaints, we have brought in some professional outside cleaners and third-party contractors who are cleaning and sanitizing the rooms.”

Maintenance aims to get rid of the mold as soon as possible when sanitizing and cleaning the room and air conditioning unit, but with the weather creating a prime environment for growth, it is possible the mold can grow back. Alice Lenthe, Director of Environmental Health and Safety, attributes this possibility to “a continuous source of moisture, like humid air coming in.”

Mold growth is not affecting every dorm room in every building. It is a minor percentage of rooms on campus, mostly affecting freshmen and sophomores. “Our dorms in each building have individual units in each room, so we don’t have a central building system with big air ducts that send air to every room,” Moro said. “Every summer we do maintenance on those to make sure they work before the students move back. We also change the filters twice per year — usually in the summer and during Christmas break. So, we do plan maintenance on these machines. Because the systems are individual and not connected, one room could have mold and the room next door could be fine.”

The University has not officially tested the mold that is growing in units in various buildings. Morro simply reiterated the fact that the main goal as a department is getting the mold cleaned and out of the room as quickly as possible. He said, “Some people ask us to test the mold, but to test it, it takes up to two weeks to grow a sample,” he said. “In general, we don’t test it. We just go in and remove it.” 

“We’re very concerned about the students’ health,” Morro added. “If we get any calls, we respond. If they say they think they might have mold, then we go check it out and clean the rooms. Because there has been an uptick in the last two weeks, we became extra concerned. We decided we would inspect all the rooms on South, Sheehan, Sullivan Austin and Fedigan. If there are more than two or three calls in a certain building, we inspect the whole building.”

The mold has posed a problem for students regarding the health and safety of the mold growing in various air conditioning units. 

“We do have instances of students getting sick,” Morro said. In some cases, they have allergies. We do recommend if they have medical problems to go to the health center and get it checked out.” 

Although they are unaware if Health Services has seen an increase in patients due to mold related illnesses, they urge all students to see a nurse or doctor on campus if they believe they are sick.  

DeMarco also commented on reports that lounges on South Campus have been converted to temporary lodging for students with rooms affected by mold. “Because we are so crowded with all of the triples, there’s not a lot of vacancies [for students affected by mold],” he said. “What we did was we took a couple of the lounges in the buildings, and we set them up as temporary assignments for people where they could go so we could get their machine cleaned or fixed. It’s just a temporary measure for freshmen.” 

As of right now, three lounges have been converted, but none are currently occupied by students. The University has used lounges before as rooms for the whole year in situations where there have been problems or an oversubscription of students. 

Despite administrative responses from the University, students are still concerned with how this mold situation has been handled. A resident of Sullivan, who wishes to remain anonymous, explained, “The whole situation is frustrating, because the school knew that there was mold in the rooms before we arrived on campus in August, but thought that they could just air out the rooms and the mold without making any real changes to prevent further mold growth. Now the mold is out of hand, and they cannot keep up with all of the work they need to do. I just hope the school realizes that they are putting all of our health in jeopardy and something needs to be done in the future to prevent this happening again.” 

Another anonymous sophomore stated, “It’s really annoying, because you have to keep checking to make sure the mold doesn’t come back. You’re not sure when the mold busters are coming, so you have to sit in your room and do nothing all day.” 

Many students affected by the mold growth seem to agree that this issue is affecting many aspects of their daily lives as students at the University. Although students are unhappy with the current conditions, some have commented on how helpful staff has been. 

Two weeks ago, students in buildings affected by mold growth were given a hard copy letter from The Offices for Residence Life, Facilities Management, and Custodial Services. All students additionally received an email from Rev. John P. Stack, OSA, Vice President for Student Life. 

Both of these notes gave an overview of the causes for the mold growing in air conditioning units along with tips to prevent mold growth. Along with the letters of explanation and precaution, residents in Sullivan Hall and Sheehan Hall will have free laundry until early November in response to mold affecting clothing and personal items.

Students can and should take precaution to preventing mold from growing in the air conditioning unit in their respective dorm rooms. Alice Lenthe, Director of Environmental Health & Safety, reiterated that “the point of the tips is to try and be proactive and to minimize the conditions for mold growth.”

As the letters from Residence Life and Maintenance said, students should keep windows closed and leave the air conditioning running in order to dehumidify the room even when they are not there. Do not block the AC units or vents so that the air is allowed to circulate in the room. 

Impeding the air flow decreases the efficiency of the unit and its ability to work optimally in creating a comfortable and safe living environment. Make sure items that are stored underneath beds are in a container. 

The mold situation has only affected a small percentage of students on campus nonetheless, it is still a priority for numerous departments at the University as they are actively pursuing cases of mold and working to fix the causes. 

Residence Life and Maintenance are being proactive and encourage students to do the same. “If someone thinks they see mold, they should report it so that we can take a look and clean it up,” Morro said.

Morro, Lenthe and DeMarco all emphasized their concern and hope that the situation ends soon with the approach of cooler and dryer weather. The administration is not letting these conditions go unnoticed. DeMarco stressed, “The response shows the care.”