Water damage shown at Walter F. Dexter Building (34) on Monday, March 20. Credit: Chloe Kern / Mustang News

Cal Poly saw a torrent of rainy weather as four storms hit San Luis Obispo County throughout winter quarter, resulting in a growing number of building damage and mold reports.

The university currently has 137 ongoing work orders for leaks affecting 11 buildings across campus since January, as of March 23. There were 211 work orders a week prior, 13 of which were attributed to the storm on March 10.

Many students again found mold in their on-campus residences in March, two months after more than 100 reports of mold displaced students in January.

Facilities and Management declined to comment how they felt the number of leaks was impacting them.

March storm affected students’ ability to attend class, survey results show

Classes were canceled on Jan. 9 – yet campus remained open during three additional storms in March so far. Professors largely decided the modality of classes held when the university remained open on Tuesday, March 14.

Mustang News sent a randomized survey to students on rainy weather and attendance for Tuesday, March 14, receiving 730 responses.

Nearly a third of survey respondents reported they had classes moved online March 14 due to the weather. Another 17% said their classes were canceled.

“I had just woken up and was about to start getting ready when I checked my email and saw that my professor had emailed saying ‘class canceled,’” architectural engineering junior Matthew Kline Bartels said.

Two bar graphs representing the number of students who had classes moved online or not during the storm on March 14.

Construction management junior Nicholas Mayton said his professor also canceled class in the afternoon due to uncertainty in his commute.

“He sent an email saying he had a longer commute and he didn't want to take the chance to come to campus and then have to go all the way back,” Mayton said. 

54% of respondents said the weather affected their ability to attend class.

Materials engineering sophomore Alex Garton decided not to attend class due to the possibility of rain damaging his computer. 

“I walked out of my apartment and it was dumping rain,” Garton said. “I imagined myself walking all the way from PCV to Engineering West, which is like in the middle of campus, pretty far from where I live. I was kind of concerned for my computer in my backpack.”

San Luis Obispo County received more than 4 inches of rain as of March 14, according to the National Weather Service. For Cal Poly students, just under 14% of survey respondents said their place of residence received an evacuation warning or order.

Ceiling tiles, paint falls to rain damage

The university has not had significant weather-related costs for storm impacts on the university, Lazier told Mustang News.

Cal Poly is using campus funding to address storm impacts, while seeking reimbursement through insurance and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The university did not disclose how much they will be receiving at this time.

The leaks across campus are "minor," according to university spokesperson Matt Lazier.

The buildings with the most impact according to the university ranged across 11 buildings including the Davidson Music Center (45), Walter F. Dexter Building (34) and Mott Athletics Center (42).

"There are some areas of campus where leaks sprung up during the January storms and where permanent solutions have yet to be implemented, again because of the frequency of storms preventing damaged areas from drying out sufficiently," Lazier said. "Common issues include saturated ceiling tiles and walls with leaks (which are to be anticipated in older buildings)."

The Green Room in the Davidson P. Music Building was closed due to water damages and mold forming, Theatre Department Chair Brian Healy said. Credit: Elizabeth Wilson on March 15, 2023 | Mustang News
Water damage sustained on the Music Building ceiling on the second floor, where some tiles are missing, on March 15, 2023 Credit: Elizabeth Wilson | Mustang News

The second-floor hallway of the Davidson Music Center smelled damp as the rain leaked onto the floor and dampened ceiling tiles. The green room where theater students practice was temporarily closed off with caution tape due to molding, Theater Department Chair Brian Healy said. 

Students previously found 20 garbage bins in their Architecture and Environmental Design classroom on March 13, used to catch water leaks. The Recreation Center also had a few bins collecting water on Wednesday in the basketball court.

In the Dexter Building, the Photo Tech Studio had leaks along the doorways, causing a chunk of the ceiling frame to break off onto the floor. Buckets were placed below and the doorway was marked off with red tape.

A chunk of the doorframe in the Dexter Building broke off, with pieces scattered on the floor on March 14, 2023. Credit: Izzy Gunn | Courtesy Photo
The concrete infrastructure was exposed from peeling paint due to rain damage on March 14, 2023. Credit: Izzy Gunn | Courtesy Photo
The Photo Tech Studio had leaks in the doorways on March 20, 2023. Credit: Chloe Kern | Mustang News

Some faculty said they had not seen any impacts in their buildings. 

Agricultural Education and Communication Department Chair, Ben Swan, told Mustang News he was unaware of any damages in the department.

Civil and Environmental Engineering Chair Misgana Museta said two classrooms in the engineering building had leaks, but they were not major.

The Kinesiology & Public Health Building (43) has no water damage from the storms, Department Chair Kris Jankovitz wrote in an email to Mustang News.

A section of the basketball court in the Recreation Center was closed off Wednesday to collect water leaking from the ceiling. Credit: Chloe Kern on March 22, 2023 | Mustang News

“This is a result of the extensive repairs that were done to our building during the summer of 2021,” she wrote. “During those repairs, the ventilation system, the roof and the entire exterior skin of the building were replaced.”

In winter quarter alone, there have been four major storms in San Luis Obispo. For weather-related emergencies, the university uses a five-year-old plan which is currently being updated, spokesperson Matt Lazier said.

“Natural hazards, including earthquakes, wildfires, floods and mudslides are all a distinct possibility,” the current document reads.

The document is a framework for discussion around specific cases of emergency events, Lazier said. Campus closures will be determined by a case-to-case basis even when the document is updated.

Long term repairs cannot be made until the leaks dry out completely, Lazier told Mustang News.

University to install dehumidifiers in rooms with 'known issues'

January was the worst month for mold reports this year so far. In February, there were 18 mold reports and another 20 up to March 21. 16 of the 38 mold reports in February and March were in residences that previously had mold in January.

Facilities reports no mold issues in non-residence buildings as of March 23.

Residents from Sierra Madre told Mustang News they haven't received any emails on how to address mold since January – despite some residents seeing more in their dorms.

Liberal studies freshman Tori Lepur has started to see mold reappear on her windowsill in Sierra Madre after the storms in March. The heater in her room was previously removed in late January when she found mold growing behind it and along her windowsill.

"It seems to be a recurring problem every time there are major storms," Lepur said of the mold.

With heavy rainfall and ventilation issues, there were more mold reports, the university previously told Mustang News.

Mold grows in damp spaces and can be a persistent issue based on moisture levels and how it is addressed.

The Environmental Protection Agency recommends increasing ventilation for bathroom spaces with mold. Mold cleanup is deemed finished when "the water or moisture problem" has been "completely fixed."

University Housing has an ongoing project to install dehumidifiers in rooms with "known issues," Lazier said.

Facilities and Management inspected 27 buildings Monday to Friday, which was unrelated to the storm impacts and a biannual review of buildings across the CSU.

Were your classes or classrooms affected by the storms? Do you have any maintenance concerns related to leaks, classroom accessibility or mold? Email reporter Elizabeth Wilson at elawilson20@gmail.com.