Wed | Oct 17, 2018

UWI to fix ‘sick building’

Published:Sunday | March 15, 2015 | 12:00 AM
A student walks past the 'Peach Building' on the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies.

The administration of The University of the West Indies, Mona campus, has issued a response to allegations that a 'sick building' - the Alister McIntyre Complex, popularly called the 'peach building' - is leaving students and staff struggling with respiratory problems.

Here is the full text of the response which was received last week:

The issue of mould in some blocks of the Alister McIntyre Complex surfaced in 2012. Initial checks suggested that it could have been due to a persistently malfunctioning air-conditioning system. As a result, efforts initially focused on repairing the air-conditioning system so it would meet acceptable standards for indoor air quality. When this did not achieve the desired result, the decision was made to install split-system units in the most severely affected areas.

In 2013, recognising that factors other than the air-conditioning system might be involved, the university assembled a multi-disciplinary team and undertook an emergency project to facilitate the comprehensive cleaning of the affected blocks in order to remove the build-up of mould which had been identified in these areas.

This project involved an assessment of the extent of contamination, the thorough cleaning of the building, including the removal of ceilings in the affected rooms; removal of dry walls and affected sections of partitions; cleaning of all surfaces in all rooms; cleaning of lighting fixtures, and restoration of electrical connections and cleaning of all components of the existing centralised A/C system - ducts, vents and air handlers.

This seemed to resolve the mould issue at the time, but problems persisted with the air-conditioning system. As a result, the decision was made to dismantle the central cooling system and replace it with chilled water supply from a newly commissioned AC service park, part of the combined heat and power system. That had some impact on the risk of mould growth, and there were some improvements in the situation.

The university's Occupational Health and Safety Unit has undertaken a comprehensive evaluation of the building and has made recommendations for a permanent solution to the problem. The university has identified a high rate of moisture build-up as a contributory factor, and so efforts are being made to improve the drainage system and to increase the capacity of the air-handler unit, a component of the cooling system, to provide greater levels of dehumidification.

Despite persistent financial challenges, approval has also been granted for installation of a computerised system which will monitor the environmental condition of the building and make automatic adjustments to factors which might impact indoor air quality.

As efforts continue to resolve the matter, some members of staff have relocated to other sections of the building, and the university is currently seeking alternative accommodation for affected persons.