AdHum pit fundraiser a success, asbestos looms overhead

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The Administration Humanities conversation pit is pictured from the fifth floor of the building. White snowflakes are drawn overtop the photo and are falling into the pit from the fifth floor. 
Three Mile AdHum? Allister White

University funds for renovation total $181,242, asbestos present in building

On Feb 1, the University of Regina (U of R), announced that they have raised a total of $90,621, which they plan to use in what they brand the “restoring, revitalizing, and remaking” of the Administration-Humanities (AdHum) conversation pit. With donations being matched by the President’s office, the funds for the revitalization of the pit total $181,242.  

The announcement was shared to the university’s Facebook page (@UniversityofRegina) alongside an archival photograph of the conversation pit. The original pit was carpeted, orange, and appeared much more plush and comfortable than today’s pit.  

The Feb 1 post announcing the outcome of the fundraiser coined the project a restoration, while the fundraising website itself makes no mention of the word restoration, but instead uses the word “revitalizing.” The university’s Facebook post also used the word “revitalizing,” but did so in conjunction with “restoring.” As such, it’s unclear what exactly the university has planned for the AdHum conversation pit.  

“Restoring” suggests that the orange conversation pit will be returned to its original state – a midcentury relic. “Revitalizing” is more vague, and suggests, according to the Oxford Dictionary’s definition, that the pit will be given “new life” and “vitality.” 

While the success of the university’s fundraiser will no doubt come as a delight to the many students who spend time in AdHum’s pit studying, building connections, and engaging in conversations, the full scope of the university’s plan remains unclear.  

What’s more is that, in April 2012, Bersch & Associates Ltd, a Saskatchewan-based environmental consulting firm, conducted an asbestos audit of all U of R buildings built prior to 1985. This included the AdHum building.  

The university’s Department of Labour report,  also known as an “asbestos inventory,” was released on Mar 21, 2014, just over two years after the Bersch & Associates audit was undertaken. 

On Apr 16 and Apr 28, 2014, Bersch & Associates audited the AdHum building. During this audit, 15 instances of chrysotile asbestos were found in the building, primarily on the first floor, but traces of chrysotile were also noted in the basement and on the fifth floor. The fifth floor’s stipple ceiling texture, which looms over the AdHum conversation pit, contains chrysotile asbestos.  

According to the Australian Government’s Chrysotile Asbestos Fact Sheet, “it is clear chrysotile can cause mesothelioma.” Chrysotile can also cause lung cancer, cancer of the larynx, and ovarian cancer.  

The Australian government’s asbestos fact sheet also states that chrysotile is associated with “pharynx, stomach and colorectal cancer,” and that “workplaces can put measures in place that minimize exposure risk, using a hierarchy of controls, but these will not prevent exposure completely unless the asbestos… is eliminated.”  

The risk of asbestos exposure occurs when loose fibres are ingested from the air. Textured ceilings, like those in AdHum, don’t pose an imminent threat if they are undisturbed. It’s worth noting, though, that stipple ceiling textures, also known as popcorn ceilings, like those on the fifth floor, are known for being fragile. The ceiling texture and can easily crumble on contact and release what Camryn Keeble, a writer with Mesothelioma Guide, calls “stray asbestos particles.” 

Still, the U of R claims that “all asbestos found during the assessment process that may have posed risk has been safely and effectively managed,” and stressed in their 2014 report that areas like AdHum’s fifth-floor ceiling, are “monitored annually to ensure they do not pose a risk.”  

Generally, textured ceilings containing asbestos are removed, encased or encapsulated. The fragility of popcorn ceilings, particularly in a high-traffic area, suggests that annual monitoring may not be enough to reduce risk.  

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