Dig Baton Rouge

Purple and Mold

By Nick BeJeaux

You’d think that a bunch of college art students would love a rustic, underground-looking space to create, learn and share their ideas – but not when there’s asbestos, mold and a menagerie of urban critters shacking up in the roof.

The state of the Studio Arts Building on LSU’s campus borders on condemned. Over the building’s 90-year history, it has been many things to many generations of students and faculty. However, its current generation may have less fond memories than others if renovations don’t happen soon.

“It’s a really old building – one of the oldest,” said ceramics professor Michaelene Walsh. “Back when it was built in 1929 lead paint and asbestos were accepted building materials – now they’re not. I’ve been teaching in this building for about 14 years now and I’m really worried about the long term effects that will have on my health.”

Lead poisoning can be fatal after a months or years of exposure. Asbestos dust inhalation can lead to a myriad of lung diseases, breathing problems and even cancer. Then there are the animals, which can carry diseases like rabies and other afflictions.

“There are rats, raccoons, birds and squirrels nesting in the roofs, walls and crannies of the building,” said Walsh. “There are some areas that are chronically infested.”

Walsh said that University officials are fully aware of the problems within the building and have taken steps toward renovations. However, they just haven’t happened.

“Three times the University has brought three different architects to renovate this building,” she said. “Last summer, 20 or 30 people, including myself, met to make plans regarding the renovations and plans were made, but nothing ever happened.”

Holly & Smith Architects were one of the previous firms on the project and still have their proposed sketches of the renovated building in their online portfolio. The firm has no date for the renovations to begin, but lists 2015 as their expected year of completion.

Walsh suspects that the reluctance to get moving on renovating the building is rooted in a laissez faire attitude toward the arts.

“In a chemistry lab the first thing provided is a safe environment and safe equipment and supplies,” she said. “The arts don’t generate revenue like science departments, but we create and produce culture, which is what Louisiana values most.”

Walsh and other faculty have been patient with this start-and-stop process over the years, but the frustration has come to a head within her students, who plan to protest their working conditions at the Capitol on Tuesday. A protest is also planned for this Thursday at 12:30 in front of the building itself.

A Facebook page, called State (School) of Decay, is the online hub of the struggle to renovate the building. It even hosts a petition to the legislature to force the campus to fix the problems within the building. Several students have also posted their own stories about mold, asbestos and run-ins with the resident wildlife.

“While doing my post bacc in the ceramics department, I had a rat fall through my ceiling once,” said Rachael Jones, a former ceramics student and artist in residence at the Cub Creek Foundation in Appomattox, Va. “It was terrifying and disgusting.”

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