The University of Montana announced today that children enrolled in a campus daycare will return to a building that tested high for asbestos-contaminated surface dust earlier this year.
Officials found, "unacceptable levels of asbestos" in UM’s McGill Hall in late January. Children from about 80 families enrolled in ASUM Child Care were relocated to the College of Education. Those kids will go back to McGill by July, says Paul Lasiter, vice president for operations and finance at UM.
"We think we’re gonna have probably amongst the cleanest locations on campus when we’re done."
Lasiter says the administration had a lengthy deliberation process involving ASUM daycare families. They considered seven possible locations, but in the end, he adds McGill offers the best available space.
About two-thirds of the users of the facility are students. The rest are faculty and staff. Lasiter says he’s proud of everything that went into a lightning-fast relocation effort to get the new, temporary facility for those children up and running.
"I mean it was a Herculean effort. It was a really fantastic thing to see happen, and one of the things that really warms my heart about this community and what people are willing to do for each other to make sure that we can serve."
Lasiter says the facility could even be expanded in McGill in the fall to accommodate some of ASUM’s 90-name waiting list.
But not all parents are happy with the decision. Nick Ehlers is youth program manager at Montana Conservation Corps. He has a four-year-old son in the program and an infant daughter on that waiting list.
"It really makes me sad. I just feel like they’re making the wrong decision and they’re gonna be on the wrong side of history."
He says the decision feels rushed, and there’s no way to ensure there won’t be another asbestos breakdown in the future.
"They’re our most vulnerable population on campus."
He says some parents have already pulled their kids out. And for him, the move is a dealbreaker. He’s enrolling his son at a new daycare in June. But not everyone has that luxury.
UM’s Paul Lasiter says Missoula has a shortage of childcare facilities.
"This is a service that’s vital for the health and well-being of, not only the children, but of our students, and letting them have the opportunity to attend here."
Lasiter says he wants parents to know the university’s doing everything it can to clean the space, and will aggressively test to make sure it’s safe for children by the time they move in.
The university’s working with ACM Contracting out of Missoula for the cleaning effort. They’ll remove 9-by-9 tiles, wall and ceiling covering, and other material that could contain asbestos. That effort will begin as early as next week.