Mold spreads through classrooms and vents; cobwebs cover corners and stairs; health issues plague employees of an administration that allegedly refuses to communicate.
To its occupants, both current and former, it seems that Purdue has no more bricks to give to Heavilon Hall.
“I think that Purdue knows that Heavilon Hall is a problem,” English department head Dorsey Armstrong said. “It’s been slated for demolition or renovation repeatedly for the last two decades, and every time it moves on to the demolition list, understandably only the bare minimum of maintenance is performed, because why would you spend a lot of money fixing a building that’s about to be demolished?
“Repeatedly, the demolition or renovation gets postponed, and then the building is in even worse shape than it was before.”
While the current iteration of the building was constructed in 1956, Heavilon Hall is one of the oldest buildings on campus. It was originally built in 1895 and has some of the longest-standing issues on campus.
The Indiana General Assembly passed a $1.1 million budget at Purdue’s request in 2000 to fix Heavilon’s heating, ventilation and cooling system, according to the timeline given by the 2019 Heavilon Hall Committee.
The legislature and Purdue knew at the time that the HVAC system didn’t provide adequate dehumidification and ventilation because the system was designed in the 1950s. Some work was done in 2001 to alleviate the issue, but in 2002, mold was spotted in the classrooms, which became temporarily unusable, according to the committee’s report.
Heavilion was slated for replacement in 2012, as part of the 10-year plan created by Purdue’s board of trustees in 2010. Executive Vice President for Business and Finance Al Diaz sent a proposal in 2013 to then-governor Mike Pence, arguing that Heavilon Hall’s demolition would necessitate the construction of the Wilmeth Active Learning Center for the added classroom space.
However, over the next few years, talks of demolition turned into promises of renovation.
“In 2017, all of our classrooms but one were moved out of Heavilon Hall, and we were assigned classroom space in WALC,” Armstrong said. “At the time, there were plans for a new building for the English department, and we had reached the 90% completion stage of planning for this building.
“Meetings with the construction team, by this point, were focused on minor issues like, ‘Where should we put the photocopier?’”
Despite being late into development, and part of the board of trustees 10-year plan, the project would receive concerning news.
“On Nov. 10, 2017, we went to what was supposed to be the meeting finalizing the plans and then setting a timeline for moving forward. When we arrived at the meeting, we learned it had been canceled, and the plans for a new building for English were ‘in limbo’. No one had bothered to inform us.”
Heavilon was removed from the board of trustees’ 10-year plan in June 2018, and just a few months later mold was found once again, so areas of the building were closed again. Those areas remain closed to this day and cause issues for the English department in finding adequate classroom space. There is just one class taking place inside Heavilon Hall this semester.
Armstrong and John Duvall, chair of the Heavilon Hall Committee, met with College of Liberal Arts Dean David Reingold and CLA Senior Associate Dean Joel Ebarb on Sept. 18, 2019, to discuss Heavilon’s issues.
Duvall described six separate instances of building occupants developing serious respiratory issues that had arisen during the occupants’ time in Heavilon to both deans, the report reads.
“While he was sympathetic, Reingold maintained that people’s stories of their health issues did not count as evidence of any problem with Heavilon, because we could not definitively prove links between these illnesses and people’s time in the building,” the report said. “For the dean, only reports from (Radiological and Environmental Management) regarding Heavilon’s air quality counted. Since he insisted on scientifically verifiable evidence from testing.”
REM is a consultant to Purdue that monitors compliance to local, state and federal safety regulations within campus spaces to “strive for the elimination of workplace injury and illness,” according to its website.
“Armstrong and Duvall requested an external evaluation to test Heavilon for mold and its effects on air quality,” the report reads. “Both Reingold and Ebarb readily agreed with this proposal; both thought an external evaluation was an excellent idea that would put people’s minds at ease. Dean Reingold even agreed to pay for the external inspection.”
However, when Armstrong hired an outside firm to perform the inspection that both deans had supported, Reingold contacted Armstrong, ordering her to cancel the inspection for a week until they met with other Purdue officials, Armstrong said.
Reingold did not respond to two calls and an email for comment, and could not be found in his office on Monday.
Purdue forwarded the matter to the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which was given up to a year to inspect Heavilon and doesn’t necessarily have to do any tests in person, according to the committee’s report.
Following a TV news story by WLFI on the mold issue in Heavilon later that year, REM swept the building, but didn’t tell Armstrong or the committee which rooms were made mold-free.
“Just before the pandemic shut everything down in March 2020, the English department was working closely with REM and Environmental Health and Public Safety to deal with the recurring mold, HVAC, roach and leaking/flooding situations in Heavilon Hall,” Armstrong said.
“We felt at that time that issues with the building had become so severe and had recurred so frequently, something significant needed to happen. When the pandemic moved everyone to remote work, the concerns about Heavilon dropped down to the bottom of the list, as there was really no one in the building for several months.”
Armstrong said the recurring issue impacted the return of faculty post-pandemic.
“The suite of office spaces in room 303 has had continuous mold issues over so many years — despite constant remediation efforts on the part of the REM and Physical Facilities crews — that we no longer assign anyone to that space, and we just keep a printer/copier in there,” she said.
Graduate students in the department were similarly impacted. Graduate student office space began showing high levels of mold spores on Sept. 8, and graduate students working there had to move elsewhere, according to an REM report. This created even more issues with space in a department already stretched thin in space and budget.
“One of my coworkers had to move out of her office, so she had to double up with another one of my friends,” graduate teaching assistant Grace Humphreys said. “Our office spaces are not super big, and just the lack of space would have a big impact in getting work done.”
Graduate students would be allowed to return on Sept. 28 after air sampling showed the area to be safe, according to World Health Organization standards, but just a week later, air levels were found with high levels of mold spores. Graduate students had to be moved out again.
“We don’t know when we’ll be able to use that space again, if ever,” Armstrong said. “And obviously, people who work in the spaces near those closed office spaces that have been designated as unsafe are a little concerned about the air quality in their own offices.”
“It’s not possible to get any fresh air into the building, all the windows are sealed shut. We are understandably a little worried, since the HVAC system moves air throughout the whole building.”
The air quality has posed health issues in the past, according to the committee’s report. These issues, while Reingold argued in the report can’t be connected to the building’s condition, are very real to the former and current occupants of Heavilon.
“The allergens in Heavilon Hall make me more susceptible to secondary lung infections,” doctorate student in English Jason Abad said in response to the committee’s report. “I’ve been in the building quite a bit in the past two years, and the number of serious lung infections that I’ve had in the past two years are more than I’ve had in the past decade. There are visible particles of dirt and dust everywhere in the building, ground bits of plaster between the windows and particulate matter coats the vents in rooms.
“And those are just the particulate matter I can see.”
Today, repeat cleanups by the REM means that mold is no longer visible in the accessible parts of Heavilon, according to building administrator Joshua Kaminski. However, mold spores in the air means that many areas of the hall remain closed.
“On the ground of these rooms there are frequent stains where spills have been allowed to discolor the floor, most likely growing various strains of bacteria in the process,” Abad said. “There is also rust visible on nearly every window and on many of the vents. All of these things, if not directly harmful to my overall health, contribute to an environment that makes it more likely that I will have a serious health incident requiring hospitalization.”
Abad’s physicians didn’t even have to see the building, he said.
“I’ve spoken with both my primary care physician and an asthma specialist,” he said. “Each time, I’ve described the building, and they’ve agreed that it’s a possible cause. Furthermore, the specialist indicated that the discussion we had about the air quality wasn’t the first she’d had about buildings at Purdue.”
The Heavilon Health Committee reports seven other stories, one of which is a worker’s compensation case. These illnesses included sinus infections, adult onset asthma, allergies and lung infections.
“One of my really good friends has asthma, and so when she started working and spending a lot of time in Heavilon last semester,” Humphreys said, “which was her first semester at Purdue, she started getting this really, really bad cough. And so it just exacerbated her asthma conditions so much that she had to take steroids. She had to take a week off of work and generally not be in the building.”
Following winter break, according to Humphreys, her friend’s cough had completely cleared up.
The English department has been dealing with issues with their graduate program and budget, according to previous Exponent reporting. The English graduate program was underfunded in the College of Liberal Arts budget, according to Armstrong, and is at risk of not being able to continue to operate in 2023 and beyond.
This, coupled with the fact that students keep from congregating in the building because parts of it are closed off for mold issues, makes it so both students and professors are demoralized.
“Morale is definitely very low, and it’s very difficult to build any true sense of community,” Armstrong said. “It used to be the case that classrooms were on the ground and first floor, and after class, students might drop in to their professor or instructors’ office hours just one or two floors up.
“Now, it’s like a ghost town. It’s not a space that feels welcoming or friendly; most people try to spend as little time in the building as possible, it’s so depressing. For those who are back full-time from remote pandemic work, it’s particularly unpleasant.”
Purdue spokesperson Tim Doty didn’t respond to multiple calls and an email for comment, and according to the committee, the university hasn’t been communicative about Heavilon unless it is convenient to them.
“In the 21st century, Heavilon has been a convenient rhetorical tool for Purdue to use in order to advance other projects and, simultaneously, to avoid thoroughly updating the HVAC system in Heavilon,” the report reads. “After all, why spend significant money on a building that’s going to be demolished?
“As this report has documented, since the 2000s, high-ranking Purdue officials have said or written that Heavilon would be torn down in the near future. In hindsight, these characterizations begin to feel as though they were made in bad faith.”
Meanwhile, the lack of work on Heavilon can be frustrating to students like Humphreys, especially when there is constant work being done across campus.
“If the English department is just going to stay in Heavilon and just be completely forgotten about, it is frustrating to look at all this construction and not be able to be a part of it.”