Paper threat

Chico State’s Butte Hall gets fire report

This notice was tacked to a bulletin board in Butte Hall slated for removal as per a state fire marshal’s report.

This notice was tacked to a bulletin board in Butte Hall slated for removal as per a state fire marshal’s report.

PHOTO BY tom gascoyne

A recent state fire marshal’s report on Chico State’s Butte Hall calling for, among other things, the removal of wooden benches, bulletin boards, plastic recycling bins, coffeemakers and tea kettles has some university employees shaking their heads at what they see as the irony of the situation.

The deaths a few years ago of two longtime Butte Hall employees brought to light the fact that the building, built in 1972, has asbestos sprayed on its interior metal frame. Test results released in January of last year indicated the air in the building did not present a danger, even though the test was not conducted in its usual manner because of the existence of asbestos. (See “Butte Hall gets good grade,” Jan. 24, 2013).

Chico State professor Mark Stemen, a critic of how the asbestos concerns were handled, is now up in arms over the fire marshal’s report. He’s posted signs on a couple of the bulletin boards slated for removal that read: “If asbestos doesn’t require removal, why does paper?”

Stemen, a professor in the Geography and Planning Department whose office is in Butte Hall, noted that a number of directives on the fire marshal report, ordered in the last inspection in 2011, have not been addressed by the university’s Facilities Management & Services Department. Those include updating fire extinguishers and providing door locks that will not encumber fire-escape routes.

“We were laughing among ourselves about the paper on the bulletin boards,” he said. “I mean, we have fire extinguishers that are out of date and doors whose locks don’t meet code compliance from the 2011 report, and we’re supposed to worry about pulling bulletin boards off the walls? I know: Bulletin boards are full of paper, and asbestos doesn’t burn.”

The report also calls for “repair to the fire alarm system,” to be followed by testing during spring break.

Additionally, the report asks the university to “[p]rovide housekeeping in the telecommunications room located in the mechanical room on the exterior of the building—north. This room was a total disaster,” and to “[r]educe and limit the amount of combustible loading on the corridor walls and doors throughout the building, most notably on the sixth floor.” The latter was in reference to the posting of signs on the bulletin boards and office doors.

Extension cords will be replaced with permanent wiring, and tea kettles, coffeemakers, space heaters, espresso machines and refrigerators were ordered removed from rooms on the fourth through seventh floors of the building.

Political science professor Charles Turner also works in Butte Hall; like Stemen, he questions the report.

“I’m not sure what all of it means,” Turner said, “but it does seem like a long list of things. As someone who’s been in the building for 14 years, it does surprise me that putting things on a bulletin board is now some big problem. I imagine most departments will have to simply remove information, which is a shame. But we probably don’t have the budget for other options.”

He, too, mentioned the asbestos that is hidden above the building’s ceiling tiles.

“It seems kind of silly that we can’t put things on the bulletin boards when the building is full of asbestos,” Turner said. “And there is no sprinkler system; [there are] no smoke detectors. It’s just a lot cheaper to tell people to take signs off their office doors and bulletin boards.”

Marvin Pratt, the director of the university’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety, said his department coordinates the inspections.

“Once we receive a report, we separate the report into categories based on who is responsible for the corrections,” he said. “Normally, fixes are either facility-, occupant- or department-related. Our office forwards the issues to the appropriate areas and works with those functional areas to ensure corrections are progressing.”

Pratt said the department will be working to make sure the safety concerns are corrected.

“The inspection frequency for the buildings on campus is not set in stone,” he said. “The residence halls and Butte Hall have a more frequent inspection requirement set forth in the fire code because they are residences or high rises; however, the fire marshal is responsible for ensuring those buildings are inspected.”