University plans renovation of Stevenson Hall amid asbestos controversy

The commotion caused by the potential hazard presented by asbestos in Stevenson Hall may come to a conclusion sooner than expected. Vice President of Administration and Finance Laurence Furukawa-Schlereth announced on Thursday, during an Academic Senate meeting, the administration is planning a potential renovation of Stevenson Hall. However, according to Furukawa-Schlereth, the renovation is not directly related to asbestos.

“The building is nearly 60 years old,” said Furukawa-Schlereth. “All the basic systems that run the building are coming to the end of their useful life.”

The renovation of Stevenson Hall would begin with a feasibility study next fall. During this study, the university would collaborate with an outside consultant to define what exactly would be renovated and how much it would cost. The feasibility study would then be presented to the CSUto compete for funds against other capital projects at other CSU campuses.

Furukawa-Schlereth said he wants to ensure students are involved in the renovation project and plans to do so by having a representative from Associated Students sit on the feasibility study committee. He said he would also encourage town hall meetings and informational sessions to keep the Sonoma State community informed.

Furukawa-Schlereth said he doesn’t want to narrow the renovation of Stevenson just to asbestos, as he claims there were many other factors driving the administration to make this decision.

“Essentially what we would get is a brand new building,” said Schlereth. “Notably we would have the asbestos issues removed, but also appropriate heating and ventilation, good electrical systems and effective classrooms.”

Although the potential plans to renovate Stevenson provide a sense of relief for some faculty, both the Academic Senate and the California Faculty Association plan to continue investigating the conflicting results from tests conducted by the university and tests conducted by a private firm in connection with a lawsuit filed by Thomas Sargent, a former employee who alleges the university has mishandled this toxic substance for years.

Chair of the Academic Senate Richard Senghas, said he would continue efforts to hire an independent firm to conduct asbestos testing in Stevenson Hall. Senghas also explained that, due to the nature of the situation, it is critical to be cautious and selective when choosing the firm that would clarify this situation.

This is because In order for the independent testing to be legitimate, both the administration and the plaintiff’s party must believe the firm conducting it possess no special interests or bias.

“People must feel like whatever organization is invited to do the testing is disinterested enough,” said Senghas. “And not speaking for one side nor the other.”

Elaine Newman, president of the California Faculty Association at Sonoma State, told the STAR the faculty has hired an independent consultant who is a retired employee from the California Occupational Safety and Health Department,  the government agency in charge of enforcing asbestos regulations.

According to Newman, the expert will scrutinize both testing reports and advise the association based on its findings. The CFA has already taken action by filing a grievance over the current asbestos uncertainty in Stevenson Hall.

Senghas believes the Academic Senate cannot validate the results found by the independent consultant hired by the CFA because they must first be approved by the administration and the plaintiff.  Senghas also mentioned he would like to see the renovation of Stevenson happen sooner than later, as he believes it would be a “resolution” to the asbestos controversy.

Meanwhile Thomas Sargent, the ex-employee currently suing the school over the asbestos in Stevenson, is also preparing to go to court. The trial is scheduled for July 29 at Sonoma County Superior Court. He and his lawyers are planning to hold a press conference at the Mario Savio Speaker Corner, here at Sonoma State on April 28 at 1 p.m. The Sonoma State STAR will continue to inform students, faculty and staff as this story develops.