News, On campus

Tech Responds to TOSHA Complaint

Tech students and faculty are expressing frustration with the working and learning environment inside Johnson Hall. Students have complained of violatile classroom temperatures and uncomfortable levels of humidity.
Photo by Megan Reagan

Tech faculty and students have recently expressed frustration over what they call unsafe working conditions and learning environments.

According to one faculty member, Johnson Hall – the home of Tech’s College of Business – has fallen into disrepair; and although the structure is slated for renovation, they believe the building needs damage mediation.

Tech student Katie Crump, a communications major with a minor in business management, said she has several classes in Johnson Hall and the learning environment has become difficult to withstand.

“The HVAC is broken, so some classrooms are extremely cold, and others feel like they are 1,000 degrees,” she said. “It is extremely humid, and because of all of that moisture, light fixtures are hanging down from the ceilings.”

The Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a Jan. 28 addressing complaints, as well as allegations of asbestos being present within the building. The letter was sent to the university’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety and required a response within five business days.

“We have not determined whether the hazards, as alleged, exist at your workplace; and we are not conducting an inspection at this time,” the letter said. “However, since allegations of violations have been made, you should investigate the alleged conditions and make any necessary corrections or modifications. Within five working days or less of your receipt of this letter, please advise us in writing of your findings and of the action you have taken. Your response should be detailed, stating specifically what action you have taken to correct any hazards.”

Environmental Health and Safety Coordinator Brent Carter responded Tuesday in a letter stating issues were caused by hot water coils “spraying water into the airstream of the building supply duct.”

“Facilities immediately closed the valves to the coil with the intention of pulling the coil out to repair or replace it. Due to the age of the valves, flow was reduced, but did not completely stop. Facilities then shut down the air handler to prevent adding a mist of 150 degree air to the building’s envelope. In order to fix the issue, facilities will have to shut off the water supply to the building in order to remove the coil for repair or replacement,” said Carter. “Further investigation revealed the insulation around the coil contains asbestos material. In order for the coil to be repaired or replaced, the insulation must first be remediated. The abatement contractor has been notified and the soonest possible mobilization will be Thursday, Feb. 3. The abatement required is within a mechanical space only accessible to facilities personnel and will be contained and completed as necessary.”

Soon after the incident occurred, Carter said in correspondence with TOSHA, a cold front moved in which dropped the outside temperature and exacerbated a problem with condensation in the south end of Johnson Hall.

“Facilities installed four air scrubbers with HEPA filters in the hallways to promote airflow and purchased six dehumidifiers to install within the affected areas. Facilities also installed a high-capacity dehumidifier in one of the larger rooms. These actions have produced a drastic improvement in conditions in the building. With the air handler still disabled, temperatures in certain areas on the south side of the building will continue to be cooler than the middle and north end of the building. The two air handlers for these areas are still operational,” he said.

Currently there are no signs of visible mold growth within the affected area, according to Carter.

Gov. Bill Lee Monday proposed in his “State of the State” address a budget of $36.1 million for Tech’s Johnson Hall renovation and Foster Hall demolition.

If the budget is approved, this will be the first major renovation the College of Business has seen since its construction in 1970.