Maryland to update two dorms in 2019 to combat mold after contractor recommends significant improvements

The University of Maryland, College Park plans to improve air conditioning and ventilation in at least two dormitories to prevent mold infestations like the one that caused the evacuation of Elkton Hall this semester, according to a university spokeswoman.

A contractor hired by the university to investigate the root cause of the mold and evaluate the university’s response said significant improvements were necessary to avoid another mold problem.

Next summer, the university plans to bolster dehumidifying capabilities in Denton and Elkton halls, two dorms that primarily house freshman on the College Park campus, according to Jessica Jennings, a spokeswoman for the university. Extreme heat and wet weather paired with an air conditioning system that was ill-equipped to control humidity allowed mold to flourish in Elkton Hall, an industrial hygienist who evaluated mold remediation in the building found.

The university is reviewing engineering recommendations from the contractor, Building Dynamics LLC, and plans to make updates beginning next year. More work to be done over the summer will be determined in the coming weeks, according to the university.

Students were relocated from Elkton Hall in September because of a widespread mold outbreak, and they lived temporarily in hotels while the building was cleaned.

Maryland hired Building Dynamics to investigate the cause of the mold, evaluate the university’s response to the infestation and recommend strategies for preventing future outbreaks.

Building Dynamics found the mold was caused by the air-conditioning system’s inability to control humidity in the building.

“That system is real good at controlling temperature but has fairly limited ability to control humidity,” said Ed Light, president of Building Dynamics.

The mold growth came during the wettest year on record for the Baltimore area, and extreme heat this summer created prime conditions for mold to thrive.

The university completed its initial remediation efforts by Oct. 10, and maintenance crews continue to address mold complaints on an individual basis.

The remediation was effective enough for an initial cleanup, according to Building Dynamics. But even after Elkton Hall was deep-cleaned, humidity in the dorm increased on hot, humid days.

“They made some improvements, but according to our testing it’s not going to be enough if next summer we have bad conditions again,” Light said.

Although winter conditions will suppress mold growth during the next few months, Light said the university will have to make changes before the heat and humidity return to prevent more mold from growing.

For Elkton, the most comprehensive fix would involve installing a supplemental air-conditioning system that is better prepared to combat humidity, Light said. But that’s a costly and time-consuming option, he said.

In the meantime, the university could install small dehumidifiers in each room, Light said.

“They really need to get something done for next year,” Light said. “The system they had in there just couldn’t handle the exaggerated summer we had.”

The scope of the work planned for Denton and Elkton was not immediately clear. Light said his firm is preparing a final report and will discuss options for mold prevention in the coming weeks. The University has said it plans to release a multiyear strategy to combat the mold in January.

smeehan@baltsun.com

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