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Letter to the Editor: Response to 'Faulty sprinklers and messy mold can't go unnoticed'

Marc Staley, director of Ohio Northern University's Physical Plant, and Bill Ballard, Vice President for Financial Affairs, wrote a letter to the Northern Review editor with an explanation for the recent Residence Life issues on campus (Northern Review photo/Nathan Grizenko).

Marc Staley, director of Ohio Northern University's Physical Plant, and Bill Ballard, Vice President for Financial Affairs, wrote a letter to the Northern Review editor with an explanation for the recent Residence Life issues on campus (Northern Review photo/Nathan Grizenko).

The following letter is from Marc Staley, director of Ohio Northern University's Physical Plant, and Bill Ballard, Vice President for Financial Affairs. 

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The recent article in the Northern Review entitled "Faulty sprinklers and messy mold can't go unnoticed" raised some important concerns for which we wanted to provide some feedback.

With regard to the questions regarding the fire sprinkler systems, the University contracts with a reputable life safety company, Tyco Simplex-Grinnell, for fire protection services and completely complies with all National Fire Protection Association standards for preventative maintenance and testing of our sprinkler systems with any deficiencies being addressed in a timely manner.

Each quarter, the sprinkler system valves are exercised at the four-inch main riser and the supervisory alarm systems are tested. Sprinkler heads are spot-checked, and flow tests are performed to check on how long before the audible alarms sound. At least annually, all sprinkler systems are tested at the four-inch riser main drain and a complete visual inspection of all sprinkler heads is performed. Finally, on a five-year cycle, sprinkler systems are drained. The system is opened on the main feed line, a branch line and at a head to look for any obstructions or bacterial growth that would compromise the water flow in the system. A camera is used in these inspections.

Regarding the question as to why the sprinkler head went off, Simplex said these heads do not fail. Perhaps someone held a lighter to the head, making the glass bulb break at 155 degrees, or someone accidentally or intentionally broke the glass bulb. The sprinkler went off at 3:03 am on April 2. A sprinkler simply failing on its own is a very rare event.

The University takes pride in the fact that they have a premier contract with a premier contractor for its fire systems to safeguard the students and staff.

Nonetheless, part of the reason that the damage extended for 30-40 minutes mostly unchecked is that we couldn't get knowledgeable personnel to diagnose the problem and locate the proper shutoff. That knowledge gap has since been remedied and we are working between Physical Plant and Public Safety to improve our reaction time in such events.

With regard to the concerns relative to mold, to say that mold doesn't occur would be less than honest. What is certain is the custodial and maintenance staff go through residential areas multiple times throughout the summer to clean and make repairs both before and after camps. Supervisors follow through with checks after the staff has been through. Residence Life does room condition reports both at the end of the school year and prior to move-in, and submits work requests to address issues that have been identified. They also perform community walks nightly throughout the school year, during which they visually inspect fire safety equipment in the halls and submit work orders as needed. Summer Camp Coordinators also go through many of the residential areas prior to camps moving in and again after they leave.

All that being said, typical summer conditions of variable heat and humidity make conditions conducive for the growth of mold. Additionally, and oftentimes, the days at move-in and the start of classes can be the hottest, most humid part of the summer. It can be especially true during those times that exterior doors are propped open for hours introducing very warm moist air into conditioned spaces and thus create perfect conditions for spotty mold to start forming.

None of these reasons are meant as excuses. Physical Plant, as well as Residence Life, take pride in working hard to keep conditions safe for our residents. We appreciate several of the quotes in the article that seem to support those efforts. We are human and things can get missed, but we will always be responsive. And, just to defeat the thought - it would NEVER be acceptable to knowingly paint over a mold issue. In fact, it wouldn't be effective anyway.

One final comment: The University has been investigating ways to prevent such conditions occurring and is currently staged to make a large capital expenditure in equipment in the Lima Hall complex to help prevent such conditions. We hope to implement these steps this summer and will continue to look for other solutions, as needed.

Thanks for your consideration of our comments. If any questions remain, please do not hesitate to contact Physical Plant for further information.