LaNada Peppers has built a “little closet studio” at home where she can create podcasts rather than in the McGill room at the University of Montana.
Peppers, who does not have access to the equipment she would normally use, also bought a camera, desk, paper, pencils and other equipment.
“It’s now thousands of dollars,” said Peppers.
The teaching assistant and master of fine arts student is among 20 or 25 media arts graduate students who were displaced after the closure of the McGill Hall campus this semester after detecting high levels of asbestos in the surface dust.
Undergraduates and some 70 teachers and staff were also relocated with 40 children to a nursery school.
Emily Griffin is on track to earn a BFA in May, and she said the shutdown, which began Jan.31, is more than a waste of time for her and her media arts cohorts. In an update this week, UM said the building will be back online on March 11 “barring additional unforeseen issues.”
“It affects our senior projects and our portfolio projects that we rely heavily on to seek careers in this area,” Griffin said. “So what I’m not sure people understand – or the university understands – is that it’s not just missing a few weeks of classes.
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“It has an impact on things that will influence our ability to find employment after we graduate.”
In a previous meeting with provost Jon Harbor about the closure, Griffin said the students had asked UM to consider reimbursement of tuition fees.
“We would all be interested in financial compensation from the college for the time we missed because we are not getting, in terms of time or quality, the education we paid for,” Griffin said. .
UM closed McGill Hall after finding concentrations of asbestos fibers on surfaces up to 80 times the federal cleaning threshold for residences. The campus also closed and relocated two daycares, including one at McGill.
Asbestos causes cancer and other diseases when suspended in the air, and UM officials and a certified industrial hygienist said the results show asbestos is not present at detectable levels based on air testing. They pointed out that surface asbestos is not correlated with a health hazard.
The building’s closure meant that UM moved classrooms to other locations on campus along with faculty, staff, and students. But Mark Shogren, director of the School of Media Arts, said the closure of McGill has shown that the educational experience the school has created over the years cannot be instantly replicated.
And some students who have lost weeks of study this semester are wondering if any health issues will arise in the future.
UM spokesperson Paula Short said the campus is working as quickly as possible to move students and meet technology needs. She was not aware of the tuition reimbursement request and her status was not immediately available on Friday.
In an emailed campus update, Vice President of Operations Paul Lasiter said the contractors had completed the cleaning and testing of the second floor of the McGill Pavilion and were working on the first floor. If all went according to plan, employees would be allowed to return to McGill on Friday March 8 and the building would be “back online” on March 11.
“It has been a difficult and uncertain time for those directly affected, and I apologize for this uncertainty and the stress it has caused,” Lasiter wrote. “I appreciate the patience, care and helpful actions of members of our community as we work diligently on these challenges.”
Shogren said the School of Media Arts appreciates how the School of Journalism has opened its doors to media arts. He said some technologies are close, but not all.
Over the years, he said his program faculty have organically prepared physical spaces with the technology and community that graduates and undergraduates need to do their jobs in the McGill Hall. They are filmmakers, digital animators, game designers, and more.
“The digital revolution has enabled us to now build what we have on this campus,” said Shogren. “What we’ve learned is that it’s not a mobile thing.”
Game design is one of the goals of media arts, and shutdown means, for example, that a new game instructor is temporarily crippled to push the program in that direction. The effort attracts students, said Shogren, but delivering a course in interactive games under the circumstances is another story.
“The narrative was, ‘We have provided spaces for these people to continue doing what they are doing,'” said Shogren. “And that’s not quite true. … You cannot reproduce the experiences that we offer them in the McGill room.
Griffin agreed. She takes a 3D animation class with only six or seven students, and she said the students and faculty use expensive software that requires a lot of processing power. The students were eventually moved to a new classroom, but she said they had to share computers.
“We’re not doing the senior project we were going to be working on anymore,” Griffin said. “We don’t have the time and the resources, and we won’t be doing it for about a week.”
In a temporary classroom at Anderson Hall, several undergraduate media arts students said they understood the greatest concern was the risk to children who were in kindergarten. But they also lamented the educational consequences, like lost class time and having to learn about equipment through lectures instead of hands-on experience.
Anika Fritz, a junior, said she was not concerned about the risks to her health given the results of the air samples, and she appreciates UM officials seeking to adhere to federal cleaning standards . But she said her mother, in Kalispell, was worried and frustrated by the UM’s lack of information.
“It’s a two-hour gap, but she doesn’t know anything about everything,” Fritz said.
Peppers can spend more of their own money buying lights and filming equipment to complete their projects. She said she sympathizes with the students who are on the verge of graduation and have experienced setbacks as a result of the shutdown.
“Keeping the morale up to continue all of our projects is very, very difficult when we don’t have a central place for all of our work,” said Peppers.
Griffin wonders if she should really foot the bill for the student loan she took out for the semester and the interest. If there were times when the air at McGill was unsafe to breathe due to the asbestos release, she wonders if she was nearby.
“It’s not just these few weeks of McGill’s closure that it’s affecting. It’s going to affect us for years to come in various ways,” Griffin said.
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