Wong does not regret $3.8 million Science Building shutdown

The University spent $3.83 million on the temporary closure, remediation and reopening of the Science Building after the discovery of environmental hazards in the facility late last year, according to an SF State official.

An estimated $1.3 million in funding for the rehabilitation of the Science Building came from a project the University found “no longer necessary,” which became last year’s operational savings. The other $2.5 million was derived from a reserve fund for capital emergencies, according to Ron Cortez, vice president and chief financial officer of administration and finance.

“It’s a big number because it’s everything from cleanup, to hourly wages, to overtime, to pulling out the asbestos, cleaning it up (and) paying the fees to take it away,” said President Leslie E. Wong. “We had a lot of our staff people doing overtime work in addition to the consultants who were actually doing the hazmat suits and the cleanup.”

Cortez confirmed that the $2.5 million produced from an emergency fund was not sourced from student tuition and assured that the other portion of funding was from the prior years savings.

Prompted by the dangerous chemicals found within the Science Building, University officials began to perform environmental hazard and safety tests on the older buildings across campus.

“We’ve done a lot of testing in the residence halls,” said Wong of the 1950s-built structures. “UPN was one we did pretty early on. Students had long complained about mold and insulation issues, so we addressed those also quite promptly and very, very quickly.”

When Wong closed the Science Building five days before the start of the Spring 2014 semester, his choice sparked criticism from faculty and staff members, with some saying that the University had neglected maintenance to the building for years.

“When it was first reported to us, my team took it seriously,” said Wong. “The last thing I think of is ‘if its been going on for the past ten, twenty years, why can’t you wait another five?’ Well, I’m not like that.”

Others were shocked by the full-scale closure of a science building, which they found to be unwarranted, for contamination from pesticides common in research facilities.

“The health and safety of our employees is important,” said Wong, who added that he did not regret his decision to close the building. “I’d rather be chewed out on behalf of their safety than to be, I want to say, superficial.”