Sickening odor invades McNeill

by Jessalyn Holdcraft and April Sigmund

McNeill Hall is funky.

A stench erupted in the basement at the end of last semester. Maintenance neutralized the original odor, but it has since returned.

“We’ve identified several potential causes over the past couple of months,” said John Harris, campus services general manager. “A broken seal on a bathroom fixture in McNeill Hall; a defective sink trap in the McNeill break room; a broken pipe under Hillman Hall; a broken section of concrete in the basement of Hillman; and a dried-out, abandoned drain under the Hillman Commuter Lounge. All of these repairs have been completed.”

The smell directly affects the faculty, staff and students who regularly frequent the lower level of McNeill. Classrooms such as the computer lab and the Simpsonian Lab are still in use, so students and staff have to avoid sniffing the stench between classes.

“I smelled something in the hallway one day on the way to Beginning Newswriting and Reporting,” freshman Trina Elam said. “I just held my breath.”

Classroom Four is no longer in use, but that is not due to the stench.

“We want to take that classroom permanently out of service, so we can expand the office area down there,” said Steve Griffith senior vice president and dean of academic affairs.

Multiple faculty and staff members whose offices are located in the McNeill basement have been subject to various symptoms of illness due to exposure to the odor.

Cindy Hamilton, faculty support in McNeill, said her exposure to the odor has produced symptoms of headaches, dizziness and nausea. For her, the symptoms typically go home with her after she leaves the building at 4:30 p.m. Hamilton’s odor-induced symptoms usually subside by the next day.

Although the stench has caused illness for Hamilton and others who spend a lot of time in the lower levels, the air quality tests conducted in McNeill have revealed no poisonous fumes.

“The important thing for everyone to know is that they’ve had the smell tested several times and there’s nothing toxic or noxious,” Griffith said. “It’s obnoxious, but not toxic.”

The “obnoxious” odor has been occupying the McNeill air for years.

“The odor actually started about 10 or 15 years ago, however it wasn’t appearing nearly as frequently as it is now,” Hamilton said. “Within this last year, especially starting this last fall is when it has become really bad.”

“It’s really difficult because it seems as if it’s been a number of things over the years, so they’re just trying to track them down one by one by one to get them fixed,” Griffith said.

The mystery still remains as to what the actual cause of the odor is.

“The physical plant has made multiple attempts to fix the problem, however nothing seems to work,” Hamilton said. “They go to fix something and think they have found the cause, and then a couple weeks later the smell is back. We can’t go several weeks without it coming back.”

According to Hamilton, the plant had at one time believed drains in McNeill were the source of the problem. Pouring water down the drains produced hopeful results, but the odor eventually returned.

Hamilton said she has received no instruction or guidance on what to do when the odor reappears.

“Nobody has told me what to do, I’m just supposed to alert the physical plant and human resources,” Hamilton said.

The odor usually starts on the east end of the lower level and moves towards information services, according to Hamilton. It is mostly confined to the lower level but has been occasionally noticed on the main level as well.

While the odor does not pose any serious health risks, those who work and learn in McNeill believe it needs to be resolved.

“It’s definitely a health issue, not just a sensitivity,” Hamilton said.