Repair work that is badly needed on University of Arizona buildings has been put off for years because state funding has dried up.

Occupants of one of those buildings have started to complain.

University officials said they must pick and choose which projects to tackle from a list of infrastructure needs that are piling up from years of deferred maintenance.

Current needs total $350 million and could rise to $1 billion within a decade if not dealt with, UA Chief Financial Officer Gregg Goldman said.

People working in the building at the top of that list want the process to move more swiftly.

Scientists, researchers, students and staff work and study in the School of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences, which they refer to as the veterinary science and microbiology building.

The structure – at 1117 E. Lowell St., north of East 6th Street – is called Building 90 in the architectural and air quality assessments that followed complaints from occupants.

Several people working in Building 90 said they are convinced it has caused or exacerbated respiratory ailments like asthma and allergies. They cited poor air quality, mold, insect parts and rodent feces as issues in the building.

“I started to have horrible vertigo – leaning against a wall to walk – and so I went to an [ear, nose and throat specialist] and I was told to start using Claritin every day,” said Debbie Schaefer, a laboratory manager who has worked in the building for decades. “Now Claritin doesn’t work, and I had to go to Zyrtec.”

In her first two weeks in the building in 2010, Jennifer Roxas suffered asthma attacks, something she had not had for years, the research specialist and graduate student said. Her allergies started to flare up again last year, despite a desensitization treatment. She said she did not link the building conditions and her symptoms until last August.

“I would just cough and cough the whole time, and it’s hard to conduct an experiment while you’re convulsing in coughs,” Roxas said of one room where she worked.

She said an allergist suggested Building 90 could be the cause, and an occupational health doctor recommended she use a respirator whenever she was there. That left her face bruised, so a full helmet was suggested, which would make her look “like an astronaut,” so she did not take up the idea, she said.

The building does not pose a health risk to occupants, one university official said, and an outside expert said there wasn’t evidence that the air quality was the cause of reported symptoms.

“I would just cough and cough the whole time, and it’s hard to conduct an experiment while you’re convulsing in coughs” – Jennifer Roxas, research specialist in Building 90.

Nevertheless, Roxas said the situation means she has to work harder to stay productive as a scientist. She splits her time between a lab in Building 90 and another a mile away, sometimes using a shopping cart to convey materials between the two. Not being on site negatively affects her work, she said.

“We need each other, we need to be in contact with our boss, we need to be in contact with our fellow lab mates,” she said. “It’s not the same as when you have a one-on-one correspondence.”

Roxas said the university has made efforts to be open and responsive, providing standalone HEPA filters and increasing the frequency of filter changes for the vents in the building, among other things. But she said she is still obliged to spend time in a structure she is convinced is the cause of her respiratory ailments.

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