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Student Respiratory Waiver

Dormitory At San Diego State Closed Over Toxic Mold

Mold is forcing the temporary closure of the 540-bed Chapultepec Residence Hall north of Peterson Gym at San Diego State University, more than two years after a lawsuit was filed concerning the problem.

According to SDSU spokesman Jack Beresford, the dormitory experienced water intrusion problems after heavy rains in the winter of 1997-98.

Beresford said as the gypsum board became more saturated, mold began to grow.

Beginning two years ago, students living at the dormitory were asked to sign a waiver that they had no respiratory problems, were not immunosuppressed and had never used inhalers.

"Students who had respiratory problems were not allowed to live at that dorm," Beresford said.

In addition to agreeing to sign the waiver, the students had to agree "to participate in the building's medical surveillance project."

The students were then asked to fill out three questionnaires throughout the year concerning their experience in the dorm.

The students also weren't allowed to bring carpet or any floor covering of any kind, agreed to have inspectors enter the rooms at least twice a month to vacuum, and agreed to allow them to come in at any time to take air samples.

Beresford declined to comment whether or not students became ill as a result of the mold.

Realizing the mold was still a problem, the Trustees of the California State University, on behalf of SDSU filed a lawsuit against Blake Construction, the general contractor on the project; Aetna Casualty and Surety Company; Architects Richard Bundy and David Thompson and an array of subcontractors were also named in the complaint.

The complaint blamed inadequate laths and underlayment in the stucco, and improperly fitted windows and expansion joints that allowed the water to enter.

The lawsuit noted that in April 1991, Aetna issued a $10.11 million performance bond on the project. The suit also claims that Blake, by allowing the defects which led to the mold, should be held accountable for nonperformance.

In the spring of last year, the school newspaper, Daily Aztec, ran a story that touched on the mold concerns.

"Even though they are taking precautions, leaving a problem and not correcting it is unacceptable," said David Parsons, SDSU Housing and Community Board chairman in the Daily Aztecstory. "If the mold was in our homes it would be fixed by now."

The school allowed the dorm to remain open for another year until the end of this school year. Beresford said the university retained consultants who determined the building was safe for occupancy. These consultants, he said, also continued to monitor the situation and did some remediation work.

Officials from Blake Construction could not be reached for comment. Officials from Standard Drywall Inc. declined to comment because the litigation has not been settled.

The Transcript spoke with Robert McGregor, an attorney representing SDSU, but he also declined comment except to say that a multimillion-dollar settlement would soon be reached between SDSU and the defendants.

The project has a past that stretches back to 1990. SDSU had planned to build a $9.5 million facility, but came in at $1.5 million over the budget, and went out to bid a second time before Blake got the nod in late 1991. The exact amount of that bid wasn't available.

Beresford said the dorm is scheduled to be closed for one year. He hopes to have it open for the 2002-2003 school year.

In the meantime, Beresford said a 660-bed facility called Cuicicalli will be ready at SDSU this fall.

Toxic mold is becoming recognized as a major problem.

In the California Legislature, a bill requiring anyone selling or renting residential property to disclose toxic mold has passed a Senate committee and is headed for an Assembly committee.

The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta has identified more than 3,000 molds, of which approximately 25 have been found to be toxic, causing mainly respiratory problems.

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