Message from UM President Seth Bodnar

 

To the UM campus community,

As the events of this week continue to unfold, I wanted to reach out to our community of faculty, staff and students and assure each of you that the safety of our people is our No. 1 priority at the University of Montana. We cannot go about the business of education and transformation if we are not safe and secure in our surroundings, classrooms, offices and play spaces. As a father and your colleague, I take this very seriously.

Yesterday, we made the proactive decision to close McGill Hall after tests by independent consultants confirmed the presence of asbestos in the building. When viewing the results of those tests through the lens of safety, the decision to close the building was evident.

Managing asbestos is not unique to UM. Every school is the MUS faces this challenge. Homeowners, business owners and municipalities across the country wrestle with asbestos daily. It is a public health concern of tremendous magnitude and one that has no easy answers.

Buildings built before 1980 contain asbestos — that is a fact. Throughout the MUS system, we have protocols for containing that asbestos, and I can assure you we that we carefully follow those protocols and will continue to follow those protocols.

In December, when we had a maintenance issue in McGill Hall, we discovered the presence of asbestos in one office suite and HVAC system. There are several HVAC systems in the building. We immediately sealed off the suite and performed tests. Our facilities group determined that while the asbestos release was first thought to be the result of the maintenance work, it was really due to the degradation of joints in the pipework. They proactively began looking for other fittings that were installed at the same time. That led to the discovery in the ASUM Day Care Center and the decision to test the rest of the building. Our consultants found higher than expected test results, which led to yesterday’s decision to close the facility.

The event in McGill is in the process of being contained, and we will continue to communicate with you as we move through each step in the process. In this case, we went beyond our established protocols and tested more of the building and for longer time periods than required. And we are thankful we did since it allowed us to take action much more quickly.

We know other areas of campus contain asbestos. We have protocols for managing asbestos in place, and we are following them. The events of this week have shown us that we must re-examine our areas of highest concern, and we will do so.

We are actively working with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Environmental Quality, the Missoula County Health Department and the MUS to review current protocol and to determine what else we can do to ensure our employees’ safety.

Updates will continue to be posted on this website: http://bit.ly/2SgeMpz

This is a difficult situation for everyone and one that we will face with a commitment to transparency and expert-informed actions. I want to thank our team for its proactive approach and the campus community for its supportive response to those impacted. Once again, I am left in awe of each of you and your capacity for care.

Seth