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Mold bloom forces sudden move of 16 classes

Before the auditorium was locked, someone hung a sign warning of black mold being present in the building. A UH spokesperson said this was not true. I Courtesy of Billion Tekleab/ The Cougar

The abrupt closing of an engineering auditorium last week due to mold, which had bloomed across large portions of the ceiling and other parts of the room, caused commotion among students and professors whose classes were suddenly moved.

Adding to the confusion and chaos was a rumor — somewhat bolstered by a sign hung on the auditorium’s doors before the building was locked — that the mold was a deadly “black mold.” The mold types were common, however, and not at levels that were dangerous, according to a spokesperson from the University.

“No students were ever in danger,” said UH Media Relations Director Chris Stipes. “We do regular inspections for mold, and that’s how we caught this.”

The mold bloom, which stretched horizontally across most of the ceiling in one section of the Cullen College of Engineering Auditorium 2 and sprouted across several corners of the building, was caused by a broken fan in the auditorium’s bathroom, Stipes said.

Sixteen classes being taught in the auditorium had to be abruptly moved because of the mold. This nearly caused some classes to be cancelled without notice, such as an Anthropology 2302 class taught by Elizabeth Farfán-Santos, who informed her students of the situation via email minutes after finding out that her class could potentially be cancelled, she said.

Farfán-Santos could not be reached by The Cougar despite multiple attempts, though the students in her anthropology class said she was frustrated with the University’s response to the situation and encouraged them to speak out about the issue.

“I’m extremely disappointed at how they handled this,” said public relations junior Marbles Sanchez. “There wasn’t any communication with the students, and not only that, we missed important instruction time.”

Aside from causing disruptions to the class’s structure and lesson plans, the incident raised concerns for students in the class who attend UH with the help of financial aid and grants such as Pell Grants, which are given out by the federal government.

“We need a full course load to maintain the grants,” said Brandon Talbert, a broadcast journalism junior in Farfán-Santos’s course who attends UH with the help of Pell Grants.

By Thursday, all 16 courses that were being held in the auditorium had been relocated, according to a University spokesperson. Farfán-Santos’s anthropology course was moved to the College of Graduate Studies while the room undergoes a cleaning process, which is expected to take two weeks.

Despite the change of venue, mold concerns are still at the forefront of several students’ minds.
While Farfán-Santos was unable to be reached for comment about the mold incident or the relocation, some of her students said they appreciated how she spoke up about the sudden moving of their class.

The remediation process for the auditorium is expected to last two weeks while crews work to scrub away various mold blooms, according to a spokesperson from the University. University maintenance alone would handle removal of small mold blooms, but blooms of over 25 square feet require extra procedures as dictated by the state.

While the mold’s spread was imposing, all mold types present were common and posed no danger to anyone inside the room, according to the University. Air quality tests reportedly showed the presence of mold in the air inside the auditorium did not exceed that of the air outside, Stipes said.

The University has a mold control policy that includes regular checks and cleaning of buildings, Stipes said. The school isn’t going to be making any changes or enhancements to their procedures in response to the auditorium incident.

“We live in Houston, there’s a lot of humidity and mold pops up from time to time,” Stipes said. “Is anything additional being done? No, because we’re constantly checking for things like this.”

While the mold bloom was ultimately harmless and the University said no other school buildings are facing issues with mold, the incident has brought issues of building disrepair to the front of the minds of students whose classes were moved.

“The sports facilities are state of the art and would never have mold, but these classrooms that we pay thousands of dollars to sit in are disgusting, unsafe and (in) poor condition,” Sanchez said.

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