Colbourn Hall investigation finds no indication of alleged health and safety concerns

The old Colbourn Hall is razed next to the new Trevor Colbourn Hall building.

Following the investigation into the misused $38 million in university funds and the release of the obtained documents, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner representative Joseph Burby concluded there were no urgent health or safety concerns regarding the old Colbourn Hall building. 

At the Board of Trustees meeting held Friday, Jan. 18, at the Fairwinds Alumni Center, Trustee and UCF Student Body President Josh Boloña asked for any information regarding the intent of former Chief Financial Officer William Merck related to the urgency of building a new Colbourn Hall.

“I’m not going to say what was in Mr. Merck’s mind. We reviewed the reports thoroughly, we spoke with individuals in facilities that were involved in working with this in this year and others. They told us what they understood the problems were,” Burby said. “In our conclusion, from all the information was that this was not urgent for any health or safety reason.”

Merck, who refused a formal interview with the firm, wrote in a statement that the "calamitous" condition of the Colbourn Hall building, which included concerns such as mold and a lack of structural integrity, called for the exploration of “alternative funding sources.” 

He wrote that although the decision to use Education & General funds to construct the new building may have gone against the guidance of the Board of Governors, no rules or laws were violated because the state of the Colbourn Hall building posed a threat to faculty and staff.

According to the UCF Operating Budget, Education & General budget is funded by general revenue, educational enhancement funds and student fees, which includes tuition and out-of-state fees. 

“As of 2016, our engineers told us that Colbourn Hall would be uninhabitable and therefore essentially destroyed as a result of the defects that were discovered,” Merck wrote. “The use of E&G funds to replace buildings destroyed by a ‘calamity’ is expressly allowed by Section 1013.74 of the Florida Statutes.”

Section 1013.74 of the 2018 Florida Statutes states that use of E&G funds is permissible to replace a building that had been destroyed by “fire or other calamity.” In this case, Merck wrote he was led to believe that the aforementioned structural concerns could result in catastrophe.

Merck wrote that the issue could not only pose legal ramifications for UCF, but engineers had estimated in 2013 that the building had two years before they needed to begin considering evacuation.

“The building was standing but the engineers could not explain how it was doing so because of rusting and deteriorated structural steel and because brick was not properly affixed to the building and had the potential for breaking away and falling,” he wrote.

According to Merck’s timeline, the dilemma facing Colbourn Hall began in 2013 after engineering reports confirmed the structural problems, as well as the mold issue. It was then, after exploring the potential renovations and consulting with engineers, it was determined the only alternative was to construct a new building. Merck did not specify who made the decision.

In the documents obtained by the investigation, three separate engineering reports were filed between 2011 and 2012. 

In the first report, conducted by the engineering company Allan and Conrad Inc. on Oct. 6, 2011, it states that although “several conditions that may have the potential to cause problems in the future” were observed, the urgent demolition and reconstruction of the building had not been suggested.

The last two reports were filed by the Raad-Tannous Engineering Group Inc. on Jun. 29 and Dec. 3, 2012. In both reports structural damage was found and repair recommendations were made, none of which included the construction of a new building.

In another statement, President Emeritus John C. Hitt vouched for the construction of a new building because of concerns over the air quality in the old Colbourn Hall building following an asbestos survey report filed by AMEC Environment & Infrastructure Inc. in 2013.

“...the Colbourn Hall situation presented a real emergency because we were facing a catastrophic situation which required immediate action,” he wrote in a letter to Burby.

Hitt wrote that Colbourn Hall had become subject for complaint from faculty and staff because the continuing moisture intrusion was causing respiratory ailments.

In addition, Hitt wrote that between 2013 and 2014 that the administration received reports from independent professional engineers, which revealed a worsening problem.

“...we were facing a real emergency,” he wrote. “And we had no other viable choice.”

According to the asbestos survey report only four materials were reported to contain traces of asbestos of the 17 sampled, one of which contained no greater than 1 percent Chrysotile asbestos, the most commonly encountered form of asbestos, and therefore not considered asbestos containing material.

In order to be considered asbestos containing material the percentage of asbestos found needs to be greater than one percent according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the State of Florida.

The Board of Trustees met again Thursday afternoon to discuss the future of the Trevor Colbourn Hall investigation into the misused funds. The board decided against further extending the investigation. 

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