OSHA investigation reveals CPP art building safety issues

By Alejandro Barlow, Nov.5, 2023

The department of art at Cal Poly Pomona in Building 13 has exposed students to an unsafe learning environment.
OSHA visited CPP in August 2022 to investigate safety concerns in the art department and printmaking lab. An auditor went around four campuses in 2018 and revealed issues with the printmaking facility at Sacramento State leading to an investigation of other printmaking and art facilities.

Faculty and staff who frequent the art building are unaware of any mold in the building according to Chair and associate professor of art Anthony Acock. Erick Guandique Enviromental Health and Safety director said he and his department are unaware of any mold of large amounts in the building, even after the OSHA reports and visits in 2022.

Stephanie Wagner, lecturer of printmaking and drawing since 2015, is a member of the California Faculty Association and became the union representative for lecture faculty in the art department in 2019.

“(In the) fall semester, a ceiling tile fell from a second story ceiling and hit one of my students on the head, and that’s when I filed an official internal safety complaint,” Wagner said. “That was, I filed that complaint on Dec. 19, 2018. And then they are asbestos tiles, but I don’t think that the asbestos was an issue. I do think they had that tested, but it’s from a second story. And they’ve been falling for a while. Like they were all over every time I would come in.”

According to audit reports obtained by The Poly Post, the departments that are most likely to use hazardous materials are liberal arts, sciences and fine arts.

“And then in 2018, the state auditor released the report saying that the CSU had failed to protect the health and safety of students and employees,” Wagner said. “And I was reading the report and a lot of everything that was being described, it was like they were describing, you know, the art building (at CPP).”

Despite suffering from damage caused by aging and issues related to hazardous materials in the classrooms, Building 13 is positioned in the middle of campus building rankings, as indicated by Acock.

Ceiling of the Art Building where tiles have fallen on multi-million dollar equipment. | Alejandro Barlow

“In aspects of how old the building is, it does seem neglected. Whether it be the classroom or the general (building),” said senior visual communication design student Adrian Diaz.

Diaz mentioned the age of the building and the problems with it, such as the building having ceiling and floor tiles made of asbestos that were common in construction from 1940 through the 1970s. Asbestos is a material that has been linked to causing cancer and lung disease. The Environmental Protection Agency put a phase out rule for asbestos in 1989.

In 2003 Landscape architect Karen Hanna became the dean and the Art Department moved from Building 11 to Building 13. Building 11 is located where building 17 is now and was renovated to hold engineering laboratories. Building 13, prior to art was an engineering building with larger equipment lending to the unique roll up doors on the exterior of the building.

The building has seen renovations to the interior of the building, renovating one classroom at a time as they gather funding. The last larger renovation happened during the pandemic welcoming the students back with new lockers, new printers in the print lab and new chairs and tables in one of the classrooms. The classrooms were originally retrofitted to host classes leaving industrial loud machines for air conditioning in each room.

Door of the Printmaking studio where there is a danger sign to not enter due to hazardous materials. | Alejandro Barlow

“The building has been described as unrecognizable from just like five years ago to today because the improvements are really staggering,” Acock said.

The student lounge located on the second floor of the building houses three rows of tables built by students, according to Acock. Seating in the lounge is limited to stools, and a broken microwave sits front and center. Students appreciate the space for themselves but wish for chairs to sit on.

Diaz also shared concern for students’ wellbeing because of the use of stools in classrooms. He has taken design classes lasting one to four hours on stools, leading students to report back pain to their peers and professors. Guandique tells students to tell their professors to put in a complaint so that they can address the situation of the stools.

“An ergonomic evaluation is usually done on an employee, triggered through the supervisor them to human resources, and human resources reaches out to EH&S to come and do an evaluation,” Guandique said. “The students are a separate group, but we do not have a process to review this.”

Art students who have grown accustomed to the building have a motto. Building 13, the building of asbestos and back pain.

Feature Image Courtesy of Alejandro Barlow

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