College pays $250,000 in penalties

by Frankie Olito / Beacon Staff • September 6, 2012

Emerson College will pay the Commonwealth of Massachusetts $250,000 in a settlement after being accused of wrongful handling of asbestos in the Colonial Building Residence Hall, according to a release from Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office. 

On July 6, Coakley filed a complaint in Suffolk Superior Court against Emerson College and Suffolk Construction for violating asbestos regulations when the school disposed of material from the renovation of the Colonial Building in 2007 and 2008. The school and the construction company settled out of court to each pay $250,000.

Following a July 7 article in The Boston Globe detailing the complaint, Vice President of Communications and Marketing Andy Tiedemann sent an email to the student body  on July 11 assuring the building was contaminant free. 

“The general contractor’s consultants monitored the Colonial Building Residence Hall’s air during the abatement process. At no time did the building’s air test positive for contaminants. The Colonial Building Residence Hall is completely safe for people to live in and to visit,” said Tiedemann

Emerson and Suffolk Construction both deny any concious wrongdoing.

“Emerson College did not knowingly violate any processes during the renovation of the Colonial Building. We are very pleased that this matter has been settled to the satisfaction of all involved,” said Andrew Tiedemann, vice president of marketing and communications in a statement to the Beacon.

In an email to the Beacon, Tiedemann said the funds spent on the settlement will be paid out of the college’s general contracting budget. 

The college was unable to provide any additional details regarding the budget at the time. 

Coakley’s office issued a press release alleging the college removed material containing asbestos improperly, potentially exposing hazardous substances to the public.

Some students expressed concern over the thousands of dollars being spent on the settlement.

“It’s really annoying since tuition is so expensive,” said Alexis Harter, a freshman performing arts major.

Chloe Pisello, a sophomore visual and media arts major, voiced a similar sentiment. She said she was not aware of the complaint from Coakley’s office, despite an email response from the college to all students, faculty, and parents. When informed of the issue, Pisello expressed concern about the cost of the settlement. 

“I’m not sure if it is true or not, but it’s offensive as someone who pays full tuition.”

Funds for the settlement, however, will not be taken from financial aid dollars, Tiedemann said. 

Senior Rebecca Opstad wasn’t surprised that there was concern from Coakley regarding the toxin. 

“We are in downtown Boston, so every building on this block probably has an asbestos problem,” she said.

Exposure to asbestos can cause  asbestosis, a disease in the lungs that makes it difficult to breathe, and mesothelioma, a type of incurable cancer, according to Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s website. 

Prior to renovations, the building —located at 100 Boylston Street — housed a variety of small businesses until Emerson purchased the property in 2006, said Tiedemann. Following the acquisition, the college hired Suffolk Construction to convert the building into a residence hall. 

According to the press release from Coakley, Suffolk Construction hired an engineering firm to inspect the building. When the firm concluded that the Colonial needed further testing because they could not access all areas of the building, Emerson and Suffolk Construction continued with renovations.