Students: Housing conditions bad

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By Lee Einer

Students on Tuesday aired their complaints about Highlands University’s housing, including allegations of mold growing on walls and in vents, broken toilets, holes in walls, blood- and urine-stained mattresses and exposed electrical wiring.

They met with the administration at the university’s student senate chambers.

The meeting was scheduled after two students, Corrine Martinez and Faith Toledo, photographed some of the more disgusting sights at Highlands dorms, arranged the photos in a PowerPoint presentation, and began showing the presentation at the university and elsewhere. The two had also posted leaflets on campus, leaflets which they said the administration had taken down.

Present at the meeting were Highlands Vice President Bill Taylor and Lawrence Trujillo, associate vice president for finance and administration. Highlands President Jim Fries was not at the meeting and was said to have been attending a banquet.

Martinez and Toledo were not amused.

“We did this to get the attention of one person, and he’s not here today; that’s Jim Fries” Martinez said.

Martinez and Toledo also said they had sent a letter to Fries detailing their concerns, but Taylor said that the letter had not been received.

Lopez, the president of Highlands’ Association of Graduate Students, who moderated the meeting, said he had heard the same complaints and had investigated on his own, requesting work orders for the dorms and a copy of an environmental report on the mold issue.

Lopez said that roughly 60 percent of the work orders checked were not completed and at least one had been resubmitted several times over a period of months. Lopez also pointed out that some of the problems are caused by destructive behavior on the part of students and that there is a need for the students to take responsibility.

Taylor said he had watched the presentation, and that Fries, Judy Cordova, the vice president of student affairs, and the employees in the facilities department watched it, and they were all concerned.

“Frankly, I’m as appalled as many of you are” Taylor said, “and there is shared responsibility between the administration and all of us. If people break things and we don’t know about them, we can’t fix them. But if we are told about it and we don’t fix it, we are culpable.”

“We will show this slideshow to the people who manage these buildings and make sure they understand the issues,” Taylor said. “We will work on each and every one of these issues in order of priority. We replaced 100 out of 400 mattresses last year. Anybody who has mattresses in the condition shown in the slideshow, let us know and we will replace them. We will purchase another 300 mattresses this year, so everyone will have a new mattress.”

Highlands student Octavio Ayala said he had asked Fries about the mold in the dorms and was told “we painted over it.”

Ayala voiced concern about the toxic potential of mold and said he had taken samples of the mold on special scientific dishes and had given them to the biology department so they could identify the species and the toxicity.

Taylor said there are some areas that are moldy that are easy to fix and some are not because particularly in the bathrooms, there is inadequate ventilation. Taylor said officials are looking into getting adequate ventilation in these areas so the root cause will be addressed.

Part of the maintenance problem, Taylor said, was because of a lack of effective tracking of work orders. Taylor said the school is instituting a new problem reporting system and had acquired software to help track the status of work orders. Taylor said the Highlands administration is looking to hire a customer service employee to oversee and manage these issues.