By Ben Simmoneau
GLASSBORO, N.J. (CBS) – A multi-million dollar housing complex at Rowan University’s Glassboro campus, built less than 10 years ago, is now facing an expensive problem: mold. And the CBS 3 I-Team found hundreds of students who live there were kept in the dark until after we started asking questions.
From the outside, the $23 million townhouses on Rowan University’s campus look like a great place to live. But inside, CBS 3 I-Team cameras found what appeared to be mold in every student apartment we were invited to enter.
And the I-Team obtained a report, written for the university months ago, that shows nearly all the heating and air conditioning systems are contaminated with mold: in 109 of 113 townhouses.
“I feel like I should have been immediately notified about it,” said Townhouse resident Valerie Gilchrist. “The fact that I wasn’t is kind of disturbing to me.”
Mold can make you sick. Some students say they’ve felt allergy-type symptoms, yet they were completely unaware of a potential mold problem until the CBS 3 I-Team told them.
“That’s pretty horrible,” said resident Louis Ratti. “That’s pretty serious stuff.”
The report showed the inside of Sarah LaMagdelaine’s heater appeared to be covered with mold.
“I’m absolutely concerned,” she said. “This is the first time I’m hearing about it.”
“Rowan University in this situation has never acted proactively, they’ve been reactive,” said environmental consultant Ed Knorr. He was hired by Rowan to investigate mold when it was first reported in a townhouse back in September 2011.
“The mold came right back, after the first time I had cleaned it. Within two days it grew,” he told the I-Team.
Knorr says he found mold in the air in that first townhouse in high enough levels to cause him concern.
“They were high enough that we had to keep retesting, and sometimes we found them 20 times the level outside,” he said.
Four hundred sixty-five students live in these seven-year-old buildings. But for the next six months, Rowan kept quiet about the extent of the problem. Ed Knorr says the university would not take air samples in other townhouses. He was allowed to inspect all the heating units over winter break, when he found mold in most of them, as detailed in the January report. Knorr began cleaning them but was only permitted to do so while students were away, making it through just 24 by March. He thought Rowan should be doing more, so that’s when he contacted the CBS 3 I-Team, and we started asking questions.
After we were on campus last month, the university put out a memo to residents just ten days ago, saying there is no need for alarm. It also hosted two meetings, which allowed I-Team reporter Ben Simmoneau to speak with Rowan spokesman Joe Cardona:
“If the university first became aware of this problem in September, found out the true extent of it in January, why are students only being told now?” Simmoneau asked Cardona on April 2.
“I don’t believe we’re holding anything back,” he responded.
Rowan would not let us – or Ed Knorr – sit in on the meetings with students.
“Until we started asking questions, we understand these meetings weren’t even scheduled,” Simmoneau told Cardona.
“That’s good for you,” he responded.
While Rowan says there’s no danger, it is picking up the pace, hiring three other contractors to try to fix the problem.
“You know, by the presence of, we were getting questions and what we wanted to do was calm and allay fears and misinformation,” Rowan Vice President of Facilities Michael Harris told the I-Team.
Rowan says part of the work will be to try and figure out what’s gone wrong in these townhouses that only opened in 2005. When asked why Ed Knorr was not allowed at the meetings with students, a spokesman told us that’s between him and the university.