The University of Montana expects to return its child care service to McGill Hall in July after renovations to fix an asbestos contamination have finished.

“This will include renovations and the addition of new space for our infant-care needs, providing consolidation of our Craighead and McGill facilities to serve all of our existing enrollees and to potentially add additional children in the fall,” Associated Students of UM Childcare Director Vicki Olson wrote in a Monday email to parents whose children are in the child care program. 

The building was closed on Jan. 28 after dusty material reported in December turned out to be asbestos, which can cause lung cancer and other illnesses if inhaled. The child care program was moved to the College of Education and Human Sciences building a short distance away.

After contractors finished cleaning the building on March 7, McGill’s first and second floors were reopened to Media Arts and Health and Human Performance students and faculty use on March 11. Its basement remains closed.

Some parents of children in the child care program were not convinced a return was a good idea.

“If they’re going back into McGill, I’m not going to be able to drop my children back into a place where asbestos was found,” said Nick Ehlers, who has a 4-year-old child in the program and an infant on a waitlist to participate. “They made a decision on the wrong side of history. It’s going to come back, and it’s going to be the same story again.”

Complaints about possible asbestos issues in McGill first surfaced last November. Contamination was confirmed on Dec. 12 when a maintenance worker reported seeing white powder near an oil valve. After several tests of the material, UM officials ordered the three-story building evacuated on Jan. 28.

“I understand parents have concerns, but the university would not reopen any facility it did not deem safe,” UM spokeswoman Paula Short said on Monday. She added that some parents had also expressed support for returning to McGill after the renovations.

The cleanup work proceeded from the top floor down, with each level successively decontaminated and sealed from the one below. UM Facilities Director Kevin Krebsbach said on Monday that all asbestos-containing materials would probably be removed from the basement, including floor tiles, window glazing, plaster coatings and some soundproofing materials.

“It’s important to remember that none of our testing has revealed an airborne health hazard in McGill,” Short said. While asbestos fibers are dangerous, they don’t become a measurable threat until they get stirred up and can be inhaled.

The basement where the child care program was housed will undergo additional renovation as well as cleanup. That will allow it to combine ASUM’s preschool and infant care programs, which before the asbestos incident were split between McGill and space in the residential Craighead building south of the main campus.

Short said UM had spent about $200,000 on asbestos cleanup work so far. Budget estimates for the child care renovations were not available. About 75 children attended the two ASUM facilities, with about 45 in the McGill building.

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