In late September, sophomore chemistry major Faith Schonauer began noticing the mildew and mold growth in her Crowe Hall dorm room.
Schonauer had grabbed a basket full of lotions and facial supplies from the top of her armoire. After taking a makeup bag out of the basket, she noticed it had several spots on it. Although she thought it was weird, Schonauer assumed it was makeup residue.
“I went downstairs and started talking to people about it, and my RA was like, ‘We need to go check this out now,’” she said.
Schonauer’s resident assistant and Crowe’s residence director went to her room, and both inspected and agreed it was mold. Schonauer was then given a cleaning product to wipe it down, and her RA scheduled for physical plant personnel to come and clean the room.
“The people from [the] physical plant surprisingly came really fast. They came that day to check it out and clean our room,” she said.
According to Physical Plant Executive Director Pam Fox, mildew growth has been confirmed in Crowe Hall through testing by both the university and outside companies.
“We do know that it is the same kind of mold spores that you find in an everyday environment,” Fox said. “The spores come inside through the air conditioning unit. If you have the right conditions in your room, they’ll settle on some materials and then start growing.”
The type of spores that were found are called aspergillus which is a common mold found indoors/outdoors and created from decaying leaves and vegetation, according to Fox.
The university placed a brand new roof on Crowe before the fall semester began as one way to lessen the chance of any mildew or mold growth, Fox said.
“We noticed some areas on the roof that we thought water could be getting in, so the executives here at the university decided—since we thought there might be a chance of water—to go ahead and replace it as a preventative measure,” she said.
Fox said they also updated the work order system for cleaning any mildew growth students might find in their dorm rooms.
“When an RD or RA calls us, they can put a ticket right in our system under Housekeeping for this specific cleaning,” Fox said. “The RD will report it, and we get to it that day. We have a product that cleans the type of mildew and mold we have specifically found is growing.”
Schonauer said that after the first cleaning, her room was fine for a while. A few weeks passed, and she noticed growth on her bag again.
Schonauer went through the same procedure again, contacting her RA and placing a physical plant work order.
“One of our RAs showed us what the mold looked like and explained it to us more,” she said. “So after the physical plant came in to clean up the second time, I went around and looked around at our stuff. We ended up still finding spots left all over the room, and so I reported it again.”
After reporting it, Schonauer said her RD came in and personally cleaned where there were spots left. The spots on the furniture, Schonauer said, were green and “just really gross.”
Physical plant personnel came in a total of three times to clean Schonauer’s room due to the mildew and mold growth, according to Schonauer.
Fox said that there is not much more the university can do in regard to the mildew and mold removal. Educating students on how the spores settle and grow, she said, is the best way to prevent growth.
“It’s not the kind of mold where you need to remove drywall, and it’s not coming in because of a major leak within the building. This is just mildew spores that are everywhere and are landing because of the environment,” she said. “I think the education is working because we just find those isolated cases where the student likes to keep their curtains shut and turn down the air conditioning real low. That’s when you find the ideal conditions.”
The 2016 summer also was humid, Fox said, which also can have an impact on the mold spores’ growth.
After weeks of dealing with the mold growth, Schonauer said she was ready to move out. Her mother visited campus to talk with Residence Life personnel because, according to Schonauer, she was tired of having the growth continue on her belongings and continuously having physical plant employees in and out of the room for cleaning purposes. Schonauer said besides her basket, the mold had grown over time on her trash can, jewelry box, a purse, multiple pairs of shoes, a mirror and parts of the dorm furniture.
Schonauer said she was told she would be reimbursed for damages from the growth in the room.
“There are just some things you cannot clean and fix, so I was glad when they said we would be reimbursed,” she said. “We sent in our list of stuff to Residence Life and they sent it on to others, but we still have not heard anything and have not gotten a response.”
Schonauer said she also felt like it was compromising her health.
“I would cough really bad throughout my sleep,” she said. “I was noticing breathing problems, and it felt like I was having an anxiety attack. And I had never had that happen before.”
Schonauer said the university accepted their request, but the university would not cover the difference in the cost of the dorms. Although Schonauer said she tried to argue that she had no choice but to move out after multiple mold incidents, she was told the university does not alter costs for circumstantial events.
Schonauer said that after spending about a week in the new dorm room in Central Hall, she feels her health has gone back to normal and has experienced no more breathing problems, which has made her living situation much better.
To avoid mildew growth, Fox said residents should keep their curtains open when they are not in their rooms and keep the air conditioning unit set at 70 degrees or above. She said physical plant personnel have been placing more emphasis on following certain rules to keep rooms cleaner and free of growth.
“When students come to move into their room, there’s a flyer on the door in a bright color, and it shares what steps to follow in order to keep a room clean,” Fox said. “We also placed the same thing in sticker format on all air conditioning units, which can be found in every room.”
Although Schonauer said that she kept her unit one degree cooler at 69 degrees, she did not keep her curtains closed constantly.
Schonauer said that although it was an unfortunate situation, she was very thankful for how understanding and proactive both the RAs and her RD in Crowe were.
Fox said she hopes to improve education about mildew even more before school starts next fall.
“When the RDs come in for training, we’re going to put a really good presentation together for them next summer to kind of talk about what kind of spores live in the air, how residents should set their curtains and air conditioning and even how to recognize it,” she said. “We have received work orders, and we’ll go to clean it, and it might not actually be mildew growth. So the education would be very beneficial for the RAs and RDs, as well as the students, to know what to look for.”
Even though some work orders result in false identification of mildew growth, Fox said they want to emphasize how seriously physical plant personnel take each case.
“We treat each work order that comes in just as seriously as the one beforehand,” Fox said. “We just want to make sure that if anything is found … we address it right away.”
Students who believe they may have mildew or mold growth in a dorm room should contact their RA or RD to have a work order placed as soon as possible.