Here in the Holy City, ghosts and tourists aren’t the only things that riddle the streets and buildings. Dangerous amounts of lead paint, asbestos and mold hide and seep through the walls of century old structures.
The Calhoun Annex, located at 172 Calhoun St., is the home of the Chapel Theater. The building also holds classes on the first floor and before the fall of 2018, the second floor was home to CisternYard Media (CYM), the College’s student run media organization.
Before the 2018-2019 school year The CYM executive board was urged to gather up their necessities and mark items “keep” or “not keep” as what they call a “second home” was being swept out from under their feet.
In an email from a previous executive board member, students were informed that the Annex had not passed inspection and “has black mold, lead, and recently the ceiling fell through in one of the offices due to water damage.”
Rumors of black mold, rotting ceilings and asbestos whirled through the student organization while students still rummaged through the building picking up loose ends and gathering up their final belongings.
CisternYard members were then informed about their downsize to Stern Student Center, but that the move was not permanent, and that after the Stern Center has been reconstructed in the next 18 months, CisternYard would have a new building. As of late, no plans for renovating Stern Center have been released to the public.
CisternYard Media was relocated to Stern Center room 207 and 209, as three storage closets were converted into their office space and what was previously a “painting room” became their recording studio. It’s been a year since CYM has left the building, and while we have settled into our new home at Stern Center, we can’t help but wonder — “if we can’t have our offices their, why are other students allowed in?”
In late summer of 2018 CYM’s previous advisor emailed staff members stating that timesheets for the remaining pay cycle would only be approved once the Annex was proven clean. In essence, the advisor was restricting payment from students until they had completed the cleaning process of a building they had been told was condemned. Once this had been brought to the attention of CofC staff members, the student’s timesheets were submitted and the advisor was told that their [advisor] actions were unacceptable.
During the past year, students have been under the impression that the building had black mold, lead and water damage, but contractor Ben Whitener ensured CYM that the building simply had asbestos and mildew in the floors. While he did confirm that there is lead in the original indoor paint, Whitener guaranteed that “anything that might have had lead in it will be encapsulated by new paint.”
Whitener deferred CYM to Kevin McCray, the contractor who ordered the construction of the building, for any further questions. After reaching out multiple times asking for answers, there was no response from McCray. At this point CYM student investigators were stuck in their search for answers.
This isn’t the first time that the College has remained hush-hush about their renovations and reports in regards to campus.
On Friday, July 27, 2018, ABC News 4 released an article about the leaky ceiling in the Thaddeus Street Junior Education Center, located on the College’s campus. The news station had tried for a month to obtain the documents about the building before the College released a statement that the inspection reports did not exist.
The request was submitted through a Freedom of Information Act to the public information office and Colonel Robert Reese, the College’s public safety department’s chief of police, fire and EMS.
In response the College told ABC4 that they would have to pay an estimated $1600 for the documents due to the ‘labor intensive” work to find them.
After further discussion the College released an additional statement to ABC4 that “we have asked our facilities division who maintains those buildings, to conduct a search for the records requested above and they have reported back that they have searched and none were located.”
In July of 2019 Live 5 News requested information regarding the College’s public safety staffing was answered with another price. The news station reached out with three questions:
How many public safety officers are currently employed with the university? How many public safety officers would be considered full staff? What is the minimum number of officers needed to work a shift, and how long are those shifts scheduled for?
Attorneys for the College responded that the cost for finding and redacting the information would be an estimated $66, and they would need a 25% deposit before looking further into it.
They later stated that the information may not be able to be resurfaced as “certain documents and/or information may have been purged from our system,” said Angela B. Mulholland, the College of Charleston’s legal counsel.
In 2018 the College was also reviewed by the Office of the Inspector General after it was alleged that the College doesn’t adhere to the Freedom of Information Act [FOIA]. The complaint was made after the College requested $80,000+ dollars to search, retrieve and redact forms. To conclude the investigation, the South Carolina Office of the Inspector General stated “Fees may not be charged for examination and review to determine if the documents are subject to disclosure.” Read the whole report on our website.
Investigations into the physical health of Calhoun Annex are still being done by CisternYard staff. We will keep the student body informed as we move forward.