Parents, students react after mold abruptly shuts down VCU dorm

Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Elevated levels of mold abruptly shut down a Virginia Commonwealth University dorm on Tuesday. Students at Johnson Hall were notified of the sudden closure and told to vacate on the same day.

As of now the university says the closure will last through the rest of the academic year, leaving some students scrambling for a place to live and store their belongings.

Johnson Hall is VCU’s oldest dorm and houses only incoming freshman. Several concerned parents and students sent photographs to 8News showing what appears to be green and black mold on surfaces like blinds, water fountains, sinks, air vents and in corners.

The issues of mold, humidity and moisture at Johnson Hall were raising concerns for residents and parents, like Becky Norris.

“This has been a big concern for a lot of parents,” Norris said.

Norris is one of many speaking out about her freshman daughter’s experience after her health took a turn last month. Norris’ daughter asked that we not identify her face or name, but is sharing her experience.

“I started feeling sick in October,” the freshman said. “I was getting really bad headaches, I had a sore throat, I was coughing and losing my voice.”

She goes on to say at first she thought it was a common cold, but after two weeks and no relief, the VCU freshman went to Patient First where she was diagnosed with a respiratory infection. Norris and her daughter believe it was caused by the mold.

Norris said she expressed her concerns to VCU, her daughters dorm room was tested for mold, and a dehumidifier was put in the room.

Another concerned parent spoke to 8News and said her daughter lives in Johnson and believes mold caused health issues as well. The student described symptoms of shortness of breath, cough, and sinus issues. The students said they went to the doctor four times and were treated for allergic response.

The parent also provided an email to 8News written to VCU addressing mold concerns on Oct. 1.

In late October, the 27th, VCU sent an email to students after the mounting concerns. It stated that the university hired an independent contractor to test the air quality.

“To date, we have inspected 78 total spaces throughout the building and 7 of those spaces were found to have an elevated spore count of mold when compared to the outside reference sample. We have already contacted residents whose individual rooms had unacceptable air quality levels with information about relocation. Areas of high moisture or humidity were also identified during the inspection and are currently being addressed with additional dehumidifiers in those spaces.”

The University also stated they would begin testing in more areas on the building on Nov. 1.

In a statement to 8News on Tuesday, VCU stated, “We are not aware of any confirmed reports of health issues related to mold problems in Johnson Hall though we encourage any student with a concern to contact Student Health or their primary care physician.”

“This mold did not just pop up with these kids getting sick like this overnight,” Norris told 8News. “They knew this when they opened this dorm and let these kids in this dorm in August.”

The November tests, according to the university, showed 41 of the 228 spaces inspected had an elevated spore count of mold when compared to the outside reference sample.

An email sent to students on Tuesday stated that recent test results were returned on Monday, and when officials found out, they immediately notified students and shut down the dorm the next day. In the email, VCU stated safety is their top priority and they’re apologizing for the disruption.

Many parents and students 8News spoke to would like to see Johnson Hall torn down and a new dorm constructed, however VCU says they are going to be doing the proper cleaning to get rid of the mold.

The shut down came as a shock to freshman students, and some are trying to figure out or wait for housing arrangements, not knowing where they will end up. Once students got the notification to leave on Tuesday, they are not allowed back inside until they receive direct communication from the university to collect their belongings. All personal items must be cleared out by Dec. 3.

8News saw crews from Belfor parked beside and near Johnson Hall on Wednesday. According to the company website, they specialize in emergency restoration including mold.

Norris says the situation is being mishandled. She said she is lucky her daughter is close to home, but what about students from out-of-state.

“VCU isn’t cheap. We send our kids to a school. We expect the best stuff, the best quality for our kids and I don’t feel like we’re getting that from VCU,” said Norris.

On Wednesday at 2 p.m., VCU held a virtual meeting for students and parents to express their concerns and learn about housing options. Students were given the choice of cancelling their housing contract or being relocated to another on-campus housing facility, pending vacancies, or moved to other alternative housing options.

Students hope to find out alternative housing options on Friday.

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