Mold, Mildew and Maintenance Woes: Are we getting our money’s worth?

Waltonian | The Waltonian Eastern University

Broken pavement and old construction supplies litter the ground behind Doane. When you walk inside, it smells musty and old. The floorboards creak as you make your way up the stairs. Why doesn’t Eastern take care of their dorms?

In the wake of the recent chaos from the power outage, students might be wondering this more than ever. And problems with Eastern’s residence halls seem to be an ongoing issue. Mold in the dorms. Buildings that students are unable to access with their keycard—or doors that are propped wide open for any and all to enter. We pay roughly $7,000 for room and board. Where is that money going?

A few days ago, I met with Mares Stellfox, who became the director of Plant Operations in September. Plant Ops organizes housekeeping and maintenance for the whole campus, responding to small work requests as well as bigger problems with electricity, plumbing and so forth. I asked her about the problems with the power outage a couple weeks ago.

“Some of it was Eastern because we had the trees come down that took down our internal lines,” she said. But this was fixed within a day. The longer-lasting power outage was a problem with our electricity provider—an outage that occurred over a much wider area than just Eastern. “Not everything is controlled on our hands,” she said.

But I know what you’re thinking. The dorms lose power all the time. Though we can understand that inconveniences happen sometimes—that trees fall on power lines once in a while—the frequency with which it occurs seems a little ridiculous. Perhaps that’s just the price we pay, not going to school in a concrete prison in downtown Philadelphia. But can’t anything be done about the trees to prevent future power outages?

Stellfox agreed that the trees have been a problem. It isn’t easy to cut them down, since in Radnor Township the rule is that for every tree you cut down, you have to replant two more. Eastern at times shuts down campus to take care of vegetation and trees near the power lines, but it isn’t feasible to cut down all trees that might possibly fall. However, on a brighter note, Stellfox mentioned a hope of getting another generator for Walton Hall, so the Dining Commons can function more fully even in a power outage.

Another problem I often hear students complaining about is the mold in the dorms. When I asked Stellfox about it, she noted that there have been problems with mold in the past, but they aren’t that common in the dorms anymore. “We’ve had six rooms that were complaining about mold,” she said. “I had the mold specialist come in, and out of the six rooms they said had mold, two rooms had one spore.”

There are issues with Eastern’s dorms, for sure, but do we really have it that much worse than other students? A student at Mississippi State University, where the average room and board is about $10,000, told me that though she feels that she’s getting her money’s worth, her campus has experienced many problems similar to those of Eastern’s dorms. 

“We…seem to lose electricity in every storm,” she said. She described a time a year ago when pipes burst and flooded her building, damaging students’ personal belongings. Though the campus cleared the water quickly, it was unable to fully dry the carpets or reimburse students for what was ruined. The dorms at MSU, like Eastern, are old, having frequent issues with mold. “These dorms need major upgrades, especially the old ones,” she said. “The old ones have mold problems, bug infestations and they are practically falling apart.”

A friend at Auburn University, where housing alone costs an average of $9,000 (and the meal plan is an additional $6,000), has had a more positive experience with her living situation. The campus has lost power only once in her time there, and it was fixed in less than an hour. 

While there are certainly still improvements that need to be made to the dorms, and living conditions in general at Eastern, a lot of resources, both money and time, go toward problems that shouldn’t even exist. Stellfox described students flushing items down toilets, dumping candle wax into drains and leaving old food in sinks.

 “We’re here to help out, and to fix things when they break,” Stellfox said.  “But when things are maliciously done, and food is put in drains, that’s just not… something that Plant Ops should be dealing with.” This irresponsibility wastes both time and money, preventing real issues from getting addressed. 

Don’t get me wrong—I lived in Kea last year. It was rough. And though a new coat of paint isn’t the solution to all its problems, it’s certainly an improvement. But for the prices we pay compared to other universities (even though the bill feels ridiculously expensive each semester), the dorms here really aren’t that bad. Could Eastern manage its money better? Of course. But the dorms are gradually improving, still recovering from post-Covid supply chain issues and the problems we have aren’t problems that are specific to Eastern. Most colleges have one downside or another. And if it means I don’t have to pay thousands more dollars per semester, I’m happy to live in dorms that are a little old and dusty.

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