New Orleans, LA – Even after moving to get away from mold-infested buildings left behind after Hurricane Katrina, Southern University at New Orleans hasn’t been able to shake the problem.
SUNO is operating from temporary buildings a half-mile away from its campus. But according to inspections completed last month, mold has followed SUNO to at least three of the 45 structures on what is called the North Campus, a fenced compound that abuts the Lake Pontchartrain levee.
Continuous wind from the lake has loosened and even disconnected the corrugated-metal roofs of the temporary buildings at the seams where the panels overlap, said Andrew Thomas, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“The wind works its way under the seam and puts upward pressure on the fasteners,” he said. “The pressure gradually loosens the nails until they disconnect. “Every building is being inspected and defective nails are being replaced with screws,” Thomas said.
Environmental reports on three buildings blamed poorly installed windows and doors, and problems with the air conditioning system. Cracks around some windows and doors let rain in, inspectors found, and flawed air conditioning systems were conducive to mold growth. In one building, an improperly functioning system let in warm, humid, unfiltered outdoor air, resulting in mold on ceilings, desks and office equipment. Mold also thrived when people in some buildings closed their vents, resulting in poor circulation and conditions conducive to mold, said Trent Vincent, SUNO’s environmental specialist.
Work on the defective windows, doors and air conditioning systems has begun, said Vincent, who estimated that the repairs should take a month. There is no estimate yet of how much the repairs will cost, SUNO spokesman Harold Clark Jr. said.
The mold, which thrived inside walls, under carpets and even under buildings, triggered health problems before anyone could see the spores, as Corbi Johnson, an administrative assistant at SUNO since August 2006, can attest. Her problems started in January, with migraines. Then came infections that wouldn’t go away, followed by nausea, vomiting and problems with her legs. “At one point, I could hardly walk on either leg,” she said. “Climbing steps is a pain, and I can’t walk much.”
Meanwhile, work continues on SUNO’s main campus. Occupancy of the first building, a multipurpose gymnasium, is expected in early January, Clark said. The move back will be piecemeal, as buildings are ready, he said. The process, which will include the first phase of SUNO’s first student housing, is expected to be complete by fall 2009, he said.