Administrators must enact a plan to solve facilities issues

When students arrived on campus in August, we expected that residence halls were carefully surveyed by facilities workers to maintain student safety. For many students living in University housing, ongoing facilities issues quickly squashed this expectation.

Throughout the past two months at GW, facilities employees have been run ragged. From mold to water leaks to other individualized issues, facilities workers have been in a constant state of damage control. After the evacuation of almost 200 students living at Townhouse Row due to mold, students across campus began examining their rooms for the harmful fungus and while some students found what appeared to be mold, others shared circulating pictures of vents and crevices plagued with dirt. Furthermore, multiple students reported feeling sick with symptoms consistent with mold exposure and received medical treatment. Soon after the mold outbreaks, a torrential rainstorm left JBKO, Fulbright and Munson residence halls with water leaks. More than 70 students claimed to find mold and water leakage in their residence hall rooms in September. GW has had mold complaints in the past, but 2021 should be the breaking point. Officials must make changes.

In my two months at GW, I’ve submitted more than five FixIts for different issues – dirty air filters, deteriorating ceiling paint, multiple leaks in my hallway, a broken toilet paper dispenser and reeking laundry machines. I never anticipated so many issues to happen this early in the semester, especially at such a well-funded university. I submitted one of my FixIt reports during move-in. While examining my two AC units, I noticed that the air filters were both dark gray, indicating they had not been changed in a while. This directly contradicted the GW Facilities Planning, Construction and Management website which states that air filters are cleaned and replaced on a regular basis. Since move-in, I’ve felt hesitant to trust GW’s statements about residence hall conditions. While only some students will notice this issue and submit FixIt forms, others are likely unaware that their air filters may need to be changed.

GW executed a series of layoffs to financially compensate for the impacts of the pandemic in 2020. Layoffs included 52 facilities employee positions. Additionally, GW “transitioned” the property manager position and HVAC shop. There has been evident student dissatisfaction with both residence hall conditions and the 2020 layoffs, which has damaged the relationship between administrators and students. The best and only way to prevent mold and water leakage without entirely rebuilding most residence halls is to allocate more money toward rehiring laid-off maintenance workers to conduct more thorough residence hall inspections.

Although my own facilities issues have not posed serious health risks, they have definitely caused me to distrust GW’s ability to both maintain upstanding residence halls and communicate with students about residence hall conditions. It’s especially sad that this feeling of skepticism is so prevalent among freshmen, who haven’t had much experience at GW yet.

The wave of maintenance problems is not the fault of the facilities staff, who have always been responsive in my cases. Any lack of efficiency in resolving a request can likely be improved by rehiring more employees, which will improve the response to and prevention of problems. The only way to prevent more hazardous maintenance problems from occurring is by allocating funds to both rehire laid-off maintenance staff to conduct more thorough maintenance inspections in every residential building. GW must now financially prioritize rehiring laid-off facilities employees and conducting summer residence hall inspections.

The first step that GW should take in solving the facilities crisis and gaining more student trust is to create and release a comprehensive maintenance plan, which should maintain transparency, encourage student feedback and exhibit a genuine effort toward housing improvement. The plan should include detailed protocol for summer residence hall inspections. Releasing a comprehensive plan to the public would give frustrated students hope that GW is dedicated to improving housing conditions.

Next, GW must rehire laid-off employees, and focus on strengthening the HVAC team. Finally, GW should institute at least two campus-wide residence hall inspections over the summer. After learning from the mistakes of this semester, residence hall examinations should focus on areas like mold, leaks, dirty vents and more, all with a greater sense of seriousness than before. GW’s Campus Living and Residential Education website currently states that health and safety inspections are conducted in residence halls only once during the summer, and three times during other months. But these health and safety inspections mainly focus on preventing student safety violations rather than identifying unsafe facilities issues. Conducting residence hall inspections at least twice during the summer with a focus on facilities issues will better ensure safe residence hall conditions by allowing facilities employees ample time to specifically evaluate current and potential issues. Further, facilities employees must evaluate issues across all rooms in residence halls with recurring issues. For example, JBKO, Fulbright and Munson, which all experienced water leakage, should be entirely inspected for ceiling problems. If irregularities are found, they should be fixed completely.

In the future, residence hall issues should not cause students distress nor trips to the hospital. The best way to ensure safe residence halls for all students is to allocate more money toward rehiring laid-off facilities employees and instituting serious maintenance inspections in every residence hall. In turn, these actions will help to build a strong relationship between administration and students for years to come.

Mia Adams, a freshman majoring in political science, is an opinions writer.

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