A moldy money pit? Douglas County Services Center remodel project approved by commissionersHit with water and mold intrusion, will remodeling the Law Enforcement Center (LEC) send the county over a financial cliff in the long run, or is it better than starting from scratch?
By: Wendy Wilson, Alexandria Echo Press
Hit with water and mold intrusion, will remodeling the Law Enforcement Center (LEC) send the county over a financial cliff in the long run, or is it better than starting from scratch?
Douglas County commissioners decided Tuesday to choose the remodeling route instead of initiating new construction.
In a special meeting held before a large audience, the commissioners listened to the options for continuing the remodeling project at the Douglas County Services Center or demolishing the 1930 school and building a new LEC.
Larry Filippi of Contegrity Group and Matthew Keenan, a designer from Klein McCarthy Architects, presented the options and answered questions.
For comparison purposes, the project estimates included $11.6 million for the current remodeling project; $12.3 million for the remodel and a weight room/storage area on the upper level; and $15.8 million to demolish the building and construct a new LEC.
The proposals included adding fire sprinklers throughout the center and remodeling other county departments, including social services, public health, environmental health and veteran services. Also included were required upgraded dispatch equipment and other technical upgrades.
These figures compare with the estimate provided June 21 of $9.7 million.
“For just a few million dollars more, we could have a new building over there, but we do have to get something done,” Commissioner Paul Anderson said.
Anderson motioned to approve the second option that would include a 4,565 square foot weight room space and storage for the sheriff’s office.
“That would be my motion, not because I want it, but because it is getting something done,” he said. “We are still putting millions of dollars into an old building.”
Commissioner Jerry Johnson countered, saying the cost was too high with the inclusion of the weight room area.
“I think its way too much money for a 4,500 square foot workout room,” he said. “I think some of that has to be whittled down.”
He also noted the need for additional workers to maintain the larger area.
After the motion was seconded, a reporter interjected a request to discuss mold found within the existing building.
The commissioners proceeded to vote on the remodeling estimate that included the workout area, lockers and storage space for a total estimated cost of $12.2 million.
Commissioners Norm Salto, Dan Olson and Paul Anderson voted for the measure, while commissioners Bev Bales and Jerry Johnson voted against it, voicing a preference for the remodeling option without the workout area. The measure passed.
After the vote ended, the commissioners briefly discussed the mold problem.
“To my knowledge, the mold problem has been addressed,” Douglas County Coordinator Bill Schalow said. “We are gutting out the second floor where there were obvious problems with water leakage and so forth.”
A reporter asked, “What about the health consequences to the people that may be working in that building?”
Schalow responded, “I’m not a doctor. I can’t tell you. All I can tell you is what the air quality samples – I’ve given you copies of those. I don’t know. I can’t answer that.”
(See related sidebar for more on the mold problem.)
Area resident DuWayne Paul addressed the commissioners with concerns about the price tag for the remodeling.
“Be very, very careful about costs and be very diligent as you go into this,” he said. “The public perception is going to be critical about what you are spending and where the money is going…You never know what you are going to find – and you are already experiencing that.”
He recommended setting aside contingency funds for unexpected expenses.
Commissioner Dan Olson agreed.
“My gut is to tear the thing down and start over, but we can’t always do those things,” he said. “We have to work this thing out the best we can.”
Auditor/treasurer Char Rosenow noted that according to the current project estimates, the county would exceed its bonding authority.
“You are about 2.5 million over your bonding, so you have to decide how you’re going to come up with those funds,” she said.
Another man posed the question, “As a taxpayer, how much do we save by doing all this rather than building one building for everything?”
In a brief conversation after the meeting, Schalow discussed the increased cost of the project.
“A couple things came up – the water problems we have,” he said. “The roof leaks horribly.”
Schalow said the roof would need to be replaced. They are removing the parapets. Additional brickwork needed to be completed and the second floor had to be gutted.
“We haven’t OK’d the numbers,” Johnson said of the estimates provided for the project.
Johnson said he believed, according to conversations held after the meeting, the workout area for the sheriff’s office would be considerably smaller than the 4,565 square feet discussed at the meeting – perhaps only 22 feet by 55 feet with bathrooms and locker rooms.
The estimate for the roofing, demolition and relocating dispatch was $653,060. Likewise, the basement weight room would be moved and an additional cost was seen in gutting the second floor. Added costs for the social services remodel would be incurred as well, according to Johnson.
Johnson explained his reasons for wanting to remodel the LEC instead of constructing a new building.
“We were so far into the project,” he said. “We would have to pay off some of the contracts…you can’t just walk away from a bid and so we would be paying a very high percentage of those costs.”
If they had chosen to build the LEC with the Alexandria Police Department, Johnson estimated a cost of $6.8 million, but he said the square footage would have been considerably smaller with less storage space.
“Now, they’ll have 27,000 to 28,000 square feet plus a garage,” he said.
And they would still have had to pay for demolition of the building, he said.
But why not sell the building?
“If it is not good enough for our people to be in it, why would somebody else want it?” Johnson said.
The mold problem
Two Stachybotrys mold spores were found in air samples collected at the Douglas County Services Center on July 21.
Some strains of Stachybotrys mold may produce mycotoxins that cause symptoms ranging from sore throats to fatigue, diarrhea, flu-like symptoms, dermatitis, and immune suppression, according to many experts.
“The presence of Stachybotrys i[n] (sic) a gym area is a concern,” the report by Legend Technical Services, Inc. stated. “The basement area including the gym needs additional assessment to determine if there is a Stachybotrys source/problem.”
Was the assessment conducted?
County Coordinator Bill Schalow said companies were reviewing the space to provide quotes for the cleanup, but no information was provided concerning a subsequent assessment or results from additional samples taken from the area where the Stachybotrys spores were found.
As for the mold removal, Commissioner Jerry Johnson explained ductwork and insulation would be removed.
“We’ll clean out that whole area,” he said. “Ceilings and walls will come out.”
Was a contractor experienced with mold removal performing the work in a negative pressure enclosure to prevent dissemination of the mold spores?
State prisoners from the ICWC had been doing demolition at the site, according to Johnson.
“We have kept them busy because they work for really cheap,” Johnson said.
Johnson acknowledged that many county workers had filed reports associated with mold exposure.
“A lot of this was to put pressure on us for a new jail and LEC,” he said.
Johnson said after the building was completely cleaned, a company would test areas within the building and certify it as mold-free.