September 16, 2019

Dear Spelman Community,

Recently, questions about asbestos, mold and the fire safety of the theater in the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Fine Arts Building have been raised by certain occupants and users of the facility. On August 19, 2019, just before the start of the fall semester, all faculty and staff with space assignments in the building were invited to a meeting hosted by the Provost’s Office to address those questions. At that meeting, air quality and environmental experts from Echelon Environmental Enterprises shared the results of multiple tests conducted in the building, all of which have confirmed the building’s safety, with the exception of some isolated issues in the theater space. We write now to share those findings with the broader community, as persons who were not at that August 19 meeting have raised questions that the test results conclusively answer.

Here are the facts:

Asbestos. As is true for many buildings built before 1980 on our campus (in addition to buildings located throughout the AUC, the City of Atlanta, and across the nation), there are asbestos-containing materials present in the Rockefeller Fine Arts Building. Despite a common public misperception, the presence of asbestos-containing materials in buildings is not a threat to human health. Asbestos is dangerous to health only if it becomes “friable,” meaning that asbestos particles become capable of being ingested or inhaled. Federal and state agencies have developed detailed guidelines about how to ensure that asbestos-containing materials do not create a danger, and the College has carefully complied with those guidelines. In 2017, environmental experts examined the state of the asbestos-containing materials in the Fine Arts Building when the College was considering possible renovations to the structure. President Campbell also directed that the air in the Fine Arts Building be tested for asbestos again this summer when some newer faculty expressed concerns about the presence of asbestos-containing materials. On both occasions, tests were conducted throughout the building, and both times our experts concluded that the asbestos-containing materials were “non-friable,” thus presenting no health hazard.

Mold. In response to reports of poor air quality, the College also had the Fine Arts Building tested for the presence of mold. Mold is common in the world, both indoors and outdoors. It grows where there is moisture. Rarer types of mold may be toxic, and therefore dangerous to human health. And even non-toxic molds may sometimes cause discomfort, such as nasal stuffiness, eye or throat irritation, particularly for those with mold sensitivities. Tests performed in the Fine Arts Building for mold in 2017, and again this summer, showed no toxic mold in the building. Nonetheless, the College took steps to improve the air quality in the facility when the 2017 test detected slightly elevated readings of non-toxic mold. And the test for mold performed this summer revealed no elevated levels of non-toxic mold, in addition to no presence of toxic mold.

Fire Safety. Finally, a separate, unrelated inspection of the theater in the Fine Arts Building conducted this summer revealed that the rigging and fire curtain need to be replaced. The theater will be closed this semester until those repairs are made. We expect to be able to reopen the theater during the spring semester.

Let us conclude by reassuring everyone that the health and safety of our faculty, staff and students is Spelman College’s foremost concern. We take this opportunity to invite any faculty, student or staff to contact the Office of the Provost or the president with their concerns. The College takes quite seriously and will address promptly any misrepresentations concerning Spelman’s proactive efforts to address these important matters or the information obtained from our trusted air quality and environmental experts. As in the past, we will continue to take all steps necessary to provide a safe learning, working and living environment on our campus.

If you have any additional questions, please direct them to Provost’s Office.


Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D.

Sharon Davies, J.D.
Provost & Vice President of Academic Affairs

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