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LCC tries to clean up building.

Byline: GREG BOLT The Register-Guard

Officials at Lane Community College are taking another run at trying to cure a building that seems to be causing illness in some employees, this time cleaning ventilation ducts and interior surfaces.

The LCC Board approved spending almost $200,000 to have a Vancouver, Wash., company perform the cleaning. Project Development Group was the lowest of three qualified bidders.

The work was expected to be completed in time to reoccupy the building on Monday.

It's the latest attempt to fix an apparent problem in the health technology building, said Marie Matsen, LCC's vice president for operations. Dozens of people working in the building have reported sporadic health problems, ranging from upper respiratory problems to headaches, nausea and rashes.

Employees believe the problem is "sick building syndrome," a condition in which stagnant or contaminated air isn't properly filtered or vented. The ailment is hard to diagnose, and Matsen said it's even harder to cure. "It's a tough thing to get a handle on," she said.

The cleaning effort was supposed to remove mold from ventilation ducts and from the inside of columns that support the building. Matsen said the design of the building let water penetrate the columns and pool inside them, allowing mold to grow.

An industrial hygienist has taken air samples on numerous occasions over the past two years and was never able to find any contaminants in the building. But health problems continued and last summer the college brought in another firm to conduct tests.

The results showed the presence of mold in the ducts and columns, and the company recommended having them thoroughly cleaned. College officials waited until winter break to do the work because the building had to be completely vacant for an entire week while the cleaning took place.

The company not only cleaned the ducts and columns, but also all the interior surfaces to ensure no mold remained in the areas where workers reported problems.

The health technology building has been a problem for a while. Workers have documented complaints back to the early 1980s and have charged the administration with failing to take the problem seriously.

But college officials say they've done everything they reasonably can to resolve the issue, including multiple rounds of tests that until last summer produced no results they could address.

Nevertheless, the college made several improvements as part of a campuswide $45 million construction and renovation project. Portions of the building's ventilation system were replaced, columns were fixed to keep water out and the laundry operation and culinary arts kitchens were moved out of the building.

That got rid of two potential sources of fumes that could have caused some of the problems. But Matsen said it didn't seem to work a complete cure.

"We have a few people who have had symptoms on and off," she said, pointing out that many more workers report no problems at all. "Obviously there's something bothering some people there. We're systematically trying to remove anything that might be a cause."

The positive test for mold last summer was the first time the building had tested positive for any kind of contaminant or allergen, Matsen said. But there wasn't enough time then to put the cleaning project out to bid and schedule the work before classes resumed.

Matsen said several employees who have reported chronic problems were moved earlier to offices in the adjoining physical education building. They will move back into their old offices this term.

"They're our test case, basically," she said. "We're trying to get this cleaned up. If they continue to have problems we'll continue to see what we can do there."
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Title Annotation:Higher Education
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 6, 2002
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