Odor in Cubberley fall quarter possibly due to leaking pipe, rodents
“It’s not a bad smell,” said Jess Fisher ’13. “It is like the nostalgic musty smell you get when you walk into an old building.”
At the beginning of last quarter, the Cubberley School of Education was widely talked about among students due to the mysterious smell emanating from the building.
Reports about the smell ranged from sewage to mustiness, and some students with fall quarter classes in Cubberley never smelled anything.
“I never really noticed a smell,” said Shannon Wong ’10, who had a morning class in Cubberley fall quarter.
But the faculty and administration within the building were well aware of the odor. One administrator, who wished to remain anonymous, provided confirmation about the smell along with emphatic nodding and a slight chuckle.
It was when students, staff and faculty began moving back into Cubberley after the construction project this past summer to retrofit it for earthquakes that the smell was first noticed.
“Right about the time that the project was completing…people started talking about a smell,” explained Kathleen Baldwin, zone manager of section C of campus, which includes Cubberley.
Up to nearly the end of fall quarter the smell was still a problem, but it appeared to be gradually dissipating.
“It seems to be getting better,” explained Ona Andre, building manager for Cubberley. “I believe it was stronger in the past [earlier in fall quarter] when it was called in.”
After enough complaints came in to confirm that the smell was not just noticed by the oversensitive, Zone Management was called in to investigate.
Zone managers such as Baldwin oversee one of fours zones on campus, acting as the property managers of academic buildings.
“Not so much the fire, but the floods and the locusts–we go out and help people [on campus],” Baldwin said, explaining the involvement of the Zone Managers into the investigation at Cubberley.
Baldwin, along with a team that includes pest control, electricians, technicians, plumbers, contractors for the Cubberley construction, the custodial company and Environmental Health and Safety, worked to comb the building top to bottom searching for the smell.
Several ideas were investigated, ranging from checking the procedures of how the café in Cubberley dealt with their garbage to ensuring that the drain heading down to the sewers was being kept wet. If the drain dries out it will result in a sewage-like smell.
“You don’t throw out any clue, you don’t throw out any possibility of what it could be,” explained Baldwin about their investigation techniques.
“We went from the top to the bottom and we found a couple of things that we thought could be suspect,” she added.
During the summer the steam radiators for Cubberley were shut down; sometimes when they are turned back on they may leak or smell.
“Over the years we have had issues with fumes and that kind of thing,” Andre said. “Mainly from radiators. [The smell] is fleeting.”
When Cubberley was investigated, a small leak was found in an old air-handling area of the fountain.
“We found a small leak [in the air-handling unit] that we fixed, but basically we just went through the whole building and didn’t see a whole lot of issues that could cause [the stench],” Baldwin said.
Another issue that possibly contributed to the smell was rodents in Cubberley. After looking around the mechanical rooms in Cubberley, some evidence of rodents was found. This issue was cleaned up and the mesh in the mechanical rooms was fixed to ensure that the rodents could not return.
“As we started solving these problems the smell has abated,” Baldwin explained. “So right before we went on break I called Ona and asked how things were going over there and she said, ‘You know, we haven’t had many problems.’”
Baldwin believes that it was a series of small steps that resulted in the correction of the smell.
“So to me, I think it was more of the building starting to come back to 100 percent occupancy and usefulness and also some of the smaller leak areas that we found that helped,” she said.
This quarter, there has been a sudden drop in complaints by faculty and students about the smell.
“We haven’t had any complaints from the faculty [winter quarter],” Andre said.
Students who are using Cubberley for the first time this quarter have not even been aware of the smell, except through rumors.
“I have not smelled anything and I am very sensitive to smells,” said Deanna Chase ’13.
Although students and administration this quarter have noticed the lack of smell within the building, the Zone manager investigation has not been closed.
“We aren’t done with Cubberley,” Baldwin stated. “If somebody says today that they’re smelling that smell again, we would go right back there and start the investigation again. We are very proactive about keeping our buildings safe.”