A University of Montana childcare facility has reopened in McGill Hall after closure for "unacceptable" levels of asbestos.
The daycare for toddlers and preschoolers of UM employees, a service of the Associated Students of the University of Montana, had been temporarily housed in the College of Education since January after high levels of asbestos were found in the McGill Hall location. The "unacceptable" levels were found in surface tests, but not air tests; asbestos is harmful when it becomes airborne.
Testing also showed asbestos at the infant care space in the Craighead Apartments, prompting that program to relocate as well.
“The kids adjusted really well” to the temporary quarters, said childcare director Vicki Olson on Tuesday. “The teachers struggled a little bit.” Infants are also now at the McGill facility.
When renovations got under way, “it was decided that all the materials that tested positive just be removed from that area,” explained Brad Evanger, UM’s construction project manager and an accredited state asbestos inspector. “The typical (asbestos) policy on campus is just ‘manage in place,’ which is the nationwide standard. If it isn't posing a hazard, you just leave (it) alone.”
But, “in the case of the day care, we took everything out,” he said, from the floors to the ceiling. "We took all this glass out,” said Facilities Services and Planning and Construction Director Kevin Krebsbach, walking along the childcare classroom’s row of windows.
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The work went beyond removing contaminants. Workers added an infant care space to McGill, bringing the entire childcare operation under one roof, and made other modifications to the space, like a new office for Olson.
The entire project cost about $700,000 and was finished just in time for the new semester. “We were right down to the wire of getting that finished and ready to go,” said university spokesperson Paula Short.
Olson said she got several grants to furnish and equip the new space. “We got a lot of help from the community.” And the new single location is a big improvement for parents with children enrolled in both the infant and the toddler or preschool programs.
Exposure to asbestos can trigger a range of respiratory health illnesses, but symptoms often don’t appear for years or decades. In January, parents of children in the childcare program criticized the university for failing to detect the problem or take appropriate measures more quickly. UM President Seth Bodnar apologized for UM’s handling of the situation.
Despite these concerns, Olson said interest in the childcare service remained strong this semester, with 74 students enrolled and a long waiting list. Visit umt.edu/facilities/asbestos/default.php for more information on UM's asbestos management activities.