Built in 2002 at a cost of around $1.77 million, the city hall/jail complex is less than 10 years old but has a severe mold infestation requiring immediate remediation. An emergency was declared during a special meeting of the council Monday so the city could spend $92,000 immediately to have the mold removed.
Mayor Rodney Grogan said during the summer, town workers had an inkling something was wrong with the building, but with the air conditioners running nonstop, the mold was not easily detectable. It was an employee with a good sense of smell who noticed that something smelled musty and reported it which led to testing Nov. 30 by All Around Home Inspection of Slidell.
The results were received Dec. 6, the night of the regular council meeting. Moderate to high levels of numerous mold and fungi that can be irritating or dangerous to those with weakened immune systems or with respiratory illnesses were found throughout the complex. No health problems have been reported by employees, Grogan said.
Prisoners were moved out of the jail Sunday night and split between the jails in Morgan City and Centerville.
On Dec. 7, the city contacted environmental lawyers from New Orleans (who are experienced in dealing with mold situations after Hurricane Katrina) to guide the city through the next steps of the remediation process. A second inspection also was obtained which found more mold than the first, Grogan said.
Because a Phase III (the most severe) remediation is required, City Hall not only will be cleaned, but also will have portions of walls torn down and possibly flooring removed. Grogan likened the process to an exploratory surgery.
“You don’t know exactly what you’re going to find and how bad it’s going to be until you get in there,” he said.
During the meeting, the blame for the problem was laid at the feet of the original contractors, as it was noted that the “primary causal factor is the design of the building,” i.e., a flat roof. Grogan, however, was not so quick to lay blame. That, he said, still remains to be determined. Also, he said, no one knows exactly how long ago the water seepage into the building occurred allowing for mold growth.
The first focus for the city is to get rid of the mold and rebuild city hall.
That is something that the city has insurance for. All costs currently are coming out of the general fund, but the city’s insurance has a bacteria/fungi clause that is supposed to pay costs of remediation as well as any costs to continue the operation of city business.
Both the city hall and the police department will be temporarily relocated to 205 and 207 Park St. (in modular buildings within the parking lot of the old Patterson Health Unit).
The temporary contact number for City Hall will be 395-4422, while the contact number for the Patterson Police Department will remain unchanged at 395-6161.
Business will continue as usual for the police department. Anyone arrested will be booked in Patterson and transported to another jail for housing.
City business will continue as well. Minimal items will be moved to the new location, but payroll will go out on time, Grogan assured employees. However, one notable change is in the city tax department. Residents have an extra 30 days to pay their annual taxes. There will be 24-hour surveillance at the complex while it undergoes cleanup, the mayor added.
There is no estimate of cost on repairs once the remediation is complete. That depends largely on how much of the building must be destroyed to clean it properly. The mayor will take three bids on the work at that time and award a contract to the lowest bid. The original contractor, Bonneval Construction of Patterson, will not be allowed to bid, based on advice from counsel, Grogan said.
Because of the state of emergency, the city does not need to go through the traditional months-long waiting period to award such a sizable contract.
The mayor has advised employees to prepare to be out of the city hall complex as long as a month in an attempt to err on the side of caution. Contractors say the work should take no longer than 14 working days.