Umpqua Community College has postponed its use of the Flegel Center in downtown Roseburg for student housing after concerns about lead dust were raised. The Flegel Center is a former National Guard Armory.

WINCHESTER — Umpqua Community College has indefinitely postponed the date for students to move into the Flegel Center in downtown Roseburg while the college commissions testing for lead dust contamination, UCC President Debra Thatcher said at Wednesday’s board meeting.

Originally, the move-in date for students was scheduled for Oct. 15, but the college will instead do additional safety testing after April Ehrlich, a reporter for Jefferson Public Radio, inquired about the possibility of lead dust contamination at the center. Ehrlich, who previously worked at The News-Review, reported in 2016 that former National Guard armories with indoor firing ranges were at risk for having dangerous levels of lead.

“The safety of our students and of community members is very important to us,” said Thatcher, who read from a prepared statement. “In preparing to utilize the Flegel Center, we have been kept apprised of environmental testing and have been assured that everything has been brought to code. We were unaware of the issue of lead in Oregon armories.”

In 2014, the Oregon Military Department closed indoor firing ranges at Oregon armories due to lead dust contamination. Lead dust tests were conducted at armories and posted online.

The Flegel Center, which was used as an armory from 1914 until 1977, was not tested. There was a firing range in the basement of the drill hall, but the building, and the basement itself, has undergone multiple renovations.

Lead exposure can cause severe mental and physical impairment. Children are most vulnerable because their brains are still developing. Even low levels of lead in blood can damage a child’s development, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most students who would live in the building would be male athletes, and in the case of lead contamination, they could see cardiovascular problems, increased blood pressure, decreased kidney function and reproductive problems.

“UCC is concerned about the safety and well-being of our students and staff as well as community members who utilize our facilities,” Thatcher said. “We will do testing on our own if the owner does not, or if we have reason to believe further testing is needed.”

The owners of the building were contacted by UCC on Wednesday about having lead dust testing, and possible cleaning, done, Thatcher said.

At the meeting Wednesday, UCC board member David Littlejohn commended Thatcher.

“We’re not going to move students in if it’s not going to be a healthy environment, so we’ll make sure it’s healthy and that seems pretty straight forward,” he said.

Last week, before Thatcher made her decision to postpone move-in, The News-Review asked UCC Athletic Director Craig Jackson about the possibility of lead dust being found in the building. Jackson said all testing had been completed and the building was up to code.

Asbestos and lead-based paint testing had been completed by the owners of the building, per code requirements, Thatcher said. Lead dust testing is not required by code.

Results of the testing done at the Flegel Center were requested by The News-Review but were not received by deadline Thursday.

Thatcher said the issue was brought to her attention earlier this week by the reporter, although it was possible Jackson mentioned it to her earlier, she said.

“My guess is he said something to me, but so many people say things to me in passing. I don’t doubt that Craig may have said something to me, but until it comes to me for action I don’t act,” Thatcher said. “When I had more information, it became very apparent that we need to respond to this.”

Thatcher said there is no definitive timeline to get the testing done, but the hope is to do it as soon as possible. Currently, some out-of-district students are living with host families.

Sanne Godfrey can be reached at sgodfrey@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4203. Follow her on Twitter @sannegodfrey.

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