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Buildings, Maintenance




Water Quality


NIH Record Feedback FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Have you sent us Feedback but haven’t seen your question answered? Or do you have a concern that may have been addressed in a previous Record? Before you log an inquiry, check out these answers to some FAQs we’ve published since the column’s debut on July 27, 2007. For the record, we receive many more questions than appear in print, but many are repeats. We try to tackle as many unique issues/concerns as we can. Issues also must be significant enough to warrant response.

(alphabetically, by category)

Buildings, Maintenance

Feedback: Bldg. 31 really seems to be showing its age. The windows don’t work, the escalators are a joke, the heating and cooling is spotty at best. The exterior is dirty and simply ugly. Some halls look nice but others look horrid. Some bathrooms are spiffy while others [are not]. Are there any plans to refurbish “old faithful” from top to bottom? That would seem to make more sense than doing it ad hoc.

Reply from the Division of Facilities Planning, Office of Research Facilities: Bldg. 31 was constructed in phases over a 6-year period during the 1960s and completed in 1968. The 40-plus-year-old complex is an aged facility with most of its infrastructure systems having outlived their expected service life. The Division of Facilities Planning has recently initiated a comprehensive facility evaluation for Bldg. 31 that will provide a detailed assessment of the building’s condition along with options for its renovation or replacement. This study is intended to provide NIH with background information needed to determine what to do with the facility in the future. In the meantime, ORF continues to invest in Bldg. 31 through ongoing maintenance, repairs to the aging systems and improvements to enhance safety and accessibility. Improvements can be recognized by the recent bathroom upgrades throughout the building, which improve accessibility for people with disabilities; the new fire alarm system for improved life safety; and the soon-to-be constructed C-wing stair tower that will be located next to the C-wing elevators, and which will improve fire egress from the 6th floor conference center and from B- and C-wing offices.

The Bldg. 31 Study is being jointly managed by Susan Cantilli of DFP and Eleanor Demasco of the Construction Management Branch, ORF Division of Property Management. Results from the study are expected in spring 2008. In the meantime, if you have any questions about the progress of the study, feel free to email Cantilli,, or Demasco, demascoe@


Feedback: When exiting the main campus, there’s too much traffic funneled onto Wilson Drive. This results in long back-ups. Why can’t we exit on West Cedar Lane?

Response from Tom Hayden, Office of Research Services: “During the implementation of the Perimeter Security System, all entrances and exits onto West Cedar Lane were closed for traffic as a result of state and county requirements. The exception is the West Drive gate, which operates with limited hours as a patient entrance only.

“We continue to work with the Maryland State Highway Administration (MD SHA) and county agencies regarding the traffic signalization along Rockville Pike to maximize the length of the green traffic cycle. The MD SHA currently has scheduled several interchange and signalization upgrades, which in the longer-term should assist with exiting onto Rockville Pike. Motorists should also consider the vehicle exits located along the Old Georgetown Road side when leaving the campus.”

Feedback: Why are only two guards inspecting cars at the Natcher vehicle inspection area this week (Oct. 15), instead of the usual four? It now takes twice as long to get through.

Response from ORS: Prior to the guard reductions, there were three, not four, guards assigned to the MLP-7 (Natcher) vehicle inspection. Due to the FY 2008 budget reductions, we were forced to reduce the staffing at that location by one guard. There are now two guards stationed during operating hours at that inspection station. We apologize to our customers if the reductions increase wait-times but it was necessary to meet the decrease in funding for the guard contract.

Feedback: Why did the NIH stop allowing dogs to come on campus? The NNMC campus allows dogs, but NIH stopped allowing them on campus. Is this an official NIH policy, and if so, why?

Response from the Office of Research Services: We did not “stop” allowing dogs onto campus. Technically, they have never been allowed on campus except for assisting handicapped individuals or for research purposes. It was just too hard to enforce in the past without the fence. This is not an NIH policy but a federal regulation. Under Title 45 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Subpart C, Section 3.42(b), “A person may not bring on the enclave any cat, dog or other animal except for authorized purposes. This prohibition does not apply to domestic pets at living quarters or to the exercise of these pets under leash or other appropriate restraints. The use of a dog by a handicapped person to assist that person is authorized.”

Feedback: I am just curious: Could you explain NIH’s tulip poplar tree replacement procedure? It seems that the procedure is to prune them periodically until they become unsightly, and at that point the remaining crown is cut off and the rest of the tree (relatively tall trunk and roots) is allowed to die. Such a “topless forest” is located immediately north of the Bldg. 21 parking lot; another one south of that lot, as well as one north of the Vaccine Center, have trees in various stages of aging.

Response from Lynn Mueller, Office of Research Facilities landscape architect: First of all, ORF does all it can to keep all our campus trees alive and healthy. However, trees are living organisms and even under the best of growing conditions, all have a maximum life-span. ORF will prune and feed trees seen to be in distress. ORF does preventive and protective procedures too. Trees located along a construction edge are deep-root fed and crown-cleaned to help resist the possible environmental changes that may occur during and after construction. The Wilson Dr. tulip poplar trees were cared for prior to the Bldg. 33 utility tunnel project. Apparently the deep-tunnel excavation changed the groundwater flow causing the down-grade grove of poplars to eventually die back. No other cause could be determined. The Bldg. 40 poplars were also likely impacted by a nearby tunnel project.

Trees that die can be either cut down or turned into “snags” and used as wildlife attractants. Snags are the standing trunks of dead trees. Creating snags, where appropriate, also saves ORF at least half of the removal cost. Removal costs of a large mature tulip poplar can be $3,000 or more. Dead trees that are not near a “target” (parking lot or building, for example) can be used to attract wildlife such as woodpeckers and other cavity-nesting birds like titmice, nuthatches, wrens and bluebirds. These insect-eating birds will then help ensure that other nearby trees are cleaned of insect pests, thereby eliminating the need to spray pesticides. ORF has not had to spray any tree with an insecticide since 1989, possibly due in large part to this effort under the ORF Integrated Pest Management Program. The one exception was the application of Bt on selected oak trees in 1992 to control an outbreak of the invasive gypsy moth.
Under the NIH Master Plan’s tree preservation policy, ORF must replace any tree lost due to natural or man-made causes on a minimum one-to-one basis. Snags are considered lost trees and are replaced with native nursery-grown trees.
Starting in 1991, ORF began keeping records of trees lost and replaced. The count as of the end of 2007 was an overall campus gain of nearly 3,500 trees, with the current campus count at approximately 7,500 trees. Of those 7,500 trees, we have 152 different species not counting the numerous cultivars that some species have. Of those 152 species, 94 are native trees, or approximately 62 percent. All trees greater than one inch in caliper are tagged and identified on a GIS campus map. The maintenance history of each tree is kept.
ORF has been proactive in the management of our trees and has been recognized over the past years by several state, local and national arborist organizations for our innovations and management practices.


Feedback: I recently received an NIH parking ticket for $75. While I deserved the parking ticket, the fee is $50 for the parking violation and $25 for a “processing” fee. I can understand the $50 parking fee is to discourage people from parking in a certain spot, but the $25 to process the ticket seems extraordinarily high. Could you please explain why the processing fee is so high? Where does that money go? Who profits from the high fee?

Response from Alvin Hinton, chief, Division of Police, ORS: The United States District Court system established the fee. Federal law enforcement agencies had no say in the establishment or amount of the fee. I believe this is a budgetary tool for the court system.

Feedback: What is the value of paying a contract employee to sit in the booth outside of multi-level parking garage 10 (adjacent to Bldgs. 31 and 33)? I have seen a sign indicating that valet parking assistance is available for handicapped individuals, but the booth seems to be occupied at the wrong times (often unoccupied in the morning; occupied at the end of the day when most people are leaving). How often is the valet parking utilized?

Response from Tom Hayden, transportation planner in the Office of Research Facilities: Throughout the day, there are a total of three attendants assigned to assist handicapped motorists. As a general guide, two are assigned specifically to MLP-10 and another at the Lot 31B booth. There is attendant coverage from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m. Their primary role is to assist handicapped motorists by providing valet parking between Lot 31B and MLP-10. The peak times for providing these services are 9 to 10:30 a.m. and then again during the evening hours of 4 to 5:30. Often when attendants are not seen in the parking booth, they may be performing one or more of the following customer service functions: parking or retrieving a vehicle for an employee with disabilities, assisting employees with finding a parking space throughout the day or even changing a flat tire for an employee. On average, 15 NIH employees are assisted daily. In terms of value, for my NIH co-workers who use this service, this assistance is extremely important. Vehicles are parked and retrieved safely at the end of the business day.

Feedback: There is a disturbing trend on campus of decreasing availability of general parking spaces and increasing reserved parking spaces for “high” level NIH employees. Parking should be on a first-come, first-served basis. Why is it necessary to reserve parking spaces for certain employees at the exclusion of others?

Response from the Office of Research Services: There have recently been additional reserved parking spaces established throughout the campus. They have been created to recognize the contributions of distinguished NIH scientists who have 30+ years of service and have also been recognized by selection into the National Academy of Sciences or Institute of Medicine.

The policy regarding red-sticker parking spaces sets a cap for these at 10 percent of the total number of campus spaces. These spaces are distributed throughout the campus in order to maximize their availability to the largest number of employees with this privilege.

ORS is committed to providing the largest number of spaces that are permissible, while recognizing that there are many demands from numerous customer bases about the perceived lack of spaces.

Feedback: With the upcoming decreases in employee parking in the P2 and P3 levels of the Bldg. 10 parking garage (i.e., no more stacked parking), is there going to be any effort to decrease the number of parking spots blocked by the construction workers? Currently there are more than 20 parking places on the P2 level that are blocked off by barricades, yet no work is taking place there and no construction equipment is being stored there. It is unclear why these parking spaces are unavailable for use. Is anyone monitoring this use of space?

Response from the Division of Travel and Transportation Services, ORS: Yes. All efforts will be made to identify violators and issue citations/ tow if necessary. We first will try to identify the project and project officer to have them comply. If unsuccessful then those vehicles in violation can be cited. Towing is always a last resort but in some cases a necessary evil. There are limited spaces for construction contractors in lot 41. Others may park in the visitor lot and pay associated costs. There should not be any construction vehicles parked in the employee sections. Employees are asked to identify where these violations are taking place so ORS can follow up.

Feedback: Could you find out why the parking in MLP-10 has gotten so crowded? The lot has been filling up so much earlier since February, and the situation has not let up even since summer started, when things are usually lighter.

Answer from ORS: The Division of Amenities and Transportation Services has reviewed numerous sources of traffic data to determine trends, but there is nothing that stands out as a single identifiable reason for any increase in traffic volume on the campus, including at MLP-10. Research has shown that other forms of transportation to the campus are increasing such as Transhare, bicycling, vanpools/carpools and shuttles. However, traffic counts to the campus remain consistent with previous years’ numbers.

Feedback: Feedback in the 1/23 and 7/10 issues this year highlighted disturbing parking issues in MLP-10. Regardless of Division of Amenities and Transportation Services review findings, there is indeed a dramatic decrease in parking space availability at 8:30 a.m. that has not been alleviated by summer vacations. It is especially upsetting to employees when we drive by those recently reserved spaces on level 4, many of which are never occupied, regardless of the time of day. Obviously, that many special spaces are not needed in MLP-10. What does ORS plan to do to alleviate this parking problem?

Answer from ORS: As mentioned previously, the analysis from the Division of Amenities and Transportation Services could not determine any single identifiable reason for an increase in traffic volume on the NIH campus, including at MLP-10. Traffic counts to the campus remain consistent with previous years’ numbers.

If MLP-10 is full, ample parking remains available at other locations on the campus. Employee lots MLP-8 and Lot 41 both continue to have spaces available and are served regularly by NIH shuttle buses.

Regarding the newly created reserve spaces, these are spaces that NIH established to recognize the achievements of our leading scientists that meet stringent criteria. A block of 10 spaces in MLP-10 was set aside for IC senior staff located off-campus for situations when they need to attend meetings or collaborate with their research colleagues on the main campus. DATS is monitoring the use of these spaces and will make adjustments as necessary.


Feedback: What’s the deal with smoking outside Bldg. 31A? “Smoke-Free” signs are posted and some even specify no smoking within 25 feet. Even so, I regularly encounter smokers in front of signs, in front of nearby pillars without signs and, once, a smoker standing within inches of the secure door into the A-wing (near the ATM). I feel for smokers, who have a serious addiction and few places where they can feed it. At the same time I don’t want to breathe second-hand smoke. I often now take a longer, smoke-free route through the building. Are efforts under way to ease the pain on both sides of the issue? Can NIH provide a specially ventilated, comfortable smoking lounge, along with smoking cessation opportunities and enforce the no-smoking rule (law)?

Response from the Office of Research Services: A new proposal revising the NIH Smoking Policy is under development. The key elements of the proposal will establish, on campus, an enhanced smoking cessation support program and further restrict where smoking is allowed by establishing designated smoking areas. The proposal that is being developed to revise the current NIH Smoking Policy is being done at the direction of the NIH steering committee. If you or one of your colleagues is in need of smoking cessation resources, visit

Feedback: Every day, I walk to campus as I live about 10 minutes away. I consider this a healthy alternative to driving—both for me and the environment. Well, I used to think it was healthy. Every day since the Tobacco-Free Campus initiative, I have to run a gauntlet of smokers (sometimes 12 at a time) standing directly at the pedestrian entrances. I’m very frustrated as I strongly believe this is a violation of my human rights. These people are choosing to smoke—I have no such choice. I have to pass through clouds of smoke. Even if you try to avoid them and go through the vehicular entrance/exit, the NIH Police drag you back and tell you to go through the card readers. As NCI says, “There are no acceptable levels of second hand smoke”—so why isn’t NIH protecting its nonsmokers? I cannot enter or leave campus without exposure to second-hand smoke. I feel this tobacco-free initiative strives to make smokers healthier at the expense of nonsmokers. It used to be that people couldn’t smoke within 25 feet of campus buildings—why not make them stand 25 feet from the pedestrian portals? Can’t anyone help us non-smokers (wait a minute…given our daily exposure should we now be classified as smokers?)

Answer from the Office of Research Services: During development of the NIH Tobacco-Free policy, there was extensive discussion about what constitutes the NIH Bethesda campus. Senior management made the final decision that, for the purposes of this policy, the perimeter fence would be the campus boundary. When the policy went into effect last October, we received several comments/complaints about smokers standing outside the pedestrian portals. These comments were mainly about the litter but some included concerns about exposure to second-hand smoke by individuals using the portals. To address these concerns, we arranged, through the Office of Research Facilities, to have these areas cleaned on a regular basis and to place one or more butt cans outside each of the portals. To the extent possible, we located the butt cans away from the immediate entrances. This is a delicate balancing act since placing them too far away from the portals would limit their use. Since these actions were implemented, the number of comments about these issues has dropped dramatically. We encourage all individuals using the pedestrian portals to exercise common courtesy towards others by not blocking or smoking near these entrances.

Feedback: In walking from the Clinical Center to the Children’s Inn with a child, I passed a smoker who was sitting on the stairs that lead away from the front of the Clinical Center. She had an employee badge on and was talking on a cell phone while smoking a cigarette. I had no choice but to pass her with my child, and asked her to stop smoking since it isn’t allowed on campus. She was not very nice about it and did not stop smoking. I looked down on the stairs and noticed cigarette butts everywhere from others before her who had obviously used this convenient place to smoke. I am wondering if anyone at NIH has any concern about this continued smoking and exposure of children who are staying at the Children’s Inn to second-hand smoke as they walk back and forth to appointments. From what I can tell, there is no enforcement of the policy. How depressing that a place concerned with health, and with a “smoke-free campus” policy, does not even provide a smoke-free environment for sick children.
Smokers can reap many health benefits by quitting. NIH’ers who quit help eliminate exposure to second-hand smoke and, by not smoking, reinforce the message that NIH is a tobacco-free campus.
Smokers can reap many health benefits by quitting. NIH’ers who quit help eliminate exposure to second-hand smoke and, by not smoking, reinforce the message that NIH is a tobacco-free campus.

Response from the Clinical Center and the Office of Research Services: On the 1-year anniversary of the NIH taking its own best advice by becoming tobacco-free, the Clinical Center reminded everyone who works within their facility of the important role each individual plays in compliance with this policy.

When the policy is violated, we first and foremost harm our patients. But it is not just about compliance, it is the right thing to do because: smokers can reap the health benefits of quitting, smokers who quit help eliminate exposures to second-hand smoke and all of us are representatives of NIH. To see people smoking on campus creates the wrong impression. In addition to the reminder, steps have been taken to clean up the areas in question and to provide for regular monitoring of the areas to ensure that they do not become unsightly.

Water Quality

Feedback: I work in a lab in Bldg. 10 and my co-workers and I are interested in getting a water dispenser with bottled water in our area (like we see in many other lab areas). We are worried that the water in the lab is not drinkable. Whom do we contact to get a water dispenser, and does our tap water need to be tested in order for the bottled water to be provided?

Response: The Community Health Branch of the Division of Occupational Health and Safety, ORS, can test the water to determine if it is safe to drink.

NIH’ers cannot buy bottled water with government funds. Employees would need to start a water fund on their own. Some employees obtain a water dispenser from a private vendor and have the bottled water delivered. They pay for it with a pool of money collected from those who choose to participate.

Even if the water was determined to have problems, the ORS/ORF typically fixes the water problem, but this has no bearing on whether employees can or cannot get bottled water for their lab or office.


Feedback: Can we have Watch for Wildlife signs posted at conspicuous locations on campus? We have a lot of wildlife on and around our roads and a lot of people may not realize that they can come upon them abruptly or that some, like the Canada goose, are protected.

Response: The Office of Research Facilities has ordered deer crossing signs to be posted in specific locations warning motorists. However, for the geese, there are no in-stock, standard signs. ORF is working with a sign company to design a goose crossing sign to put up near each vehicle entrance. The signs will be posted before next spring’s influx of birds.