VENTNOR – The discovery of common mold and moisture in City Hall will cost more than $70,000 to remediate, City Administrator Maria Mento said Wednesday morning.
City Hall has been closing at 1 p.m. over the last week or so to accommodate contractors working on the HVAC system and cleaning up aspergillus penicillium, a common mold found both indoors and outdoors.
The problem was discovered after the city had a contractor inspect the community building that houses the Atlantic County Library and Cultural Arts Center.
“It’s fine there,” Mento said, “but we asked them to check the mayor’s office because it’s very smelly in there.”
Coastal Environmental Compliance, LLC of Hammonton found visible signs of common mold and tested other areas where it was not so visible, Mento said.
“From there, we had them inspect every room. The report showed elevated levels of aspergillus penicillium,” she said.
Two rooms in the Police Department that were tested for black mold came back negative.
Serve-Pro has been working in the building to clean room by room, and an HVAC contractor is also working in the building, so it was safer for employees to get out of their way, Mento said.
“The city believes the HVAC was not working properly, causing humidity to build and the mold to grow,” she said.
The HVAC contractor is checking all systems and cleaning all the vents.
“They are trying to do it on weekends, but it’s safer to close at 1 p.m. and let them get the work done,” she said.
Serve-Pro has had to go back and clean areas that were already cleaned.
The cleanup requires the heat be turned on to dry out the building. At one point the marble floors and stairways were so wet, dehumidifiers were brought in to dry things out. Several employees slipped and fell, “but they are fine now,” Mento said.
One person filed a complaint with Public Employees Occupational Safety and Health, which Mento addressed.
“We had to respond to it and give them the results of our investigation and how we are taking care of it,” she said. “The memo is posted on the bulletin board.”
“It’s been too hot for the employees to work, so we are only working half-days,” she said.
As of last week, costs for testing and clean-up have exceeded $70,000, Mento said.
“We are looking into equipment, design and installation, which is three different contractors, to see if it’s the HVAC system or the weather that’s causing this,” she said.
Remington, Vernick and Walberg designed the system, and Falasca Mechanical installed it using Trane equipment.
The HVAC system, which was installed in 2014 when the building was rehabbed after Hurricane Sandy, has never worked right, Commissioner of Public Works Lance Landgraf said.
“It’s been a constant battle trying to keep the building cooled in summer and warm in winter. It’s been very inconsistent and I believe this is what caused this mold issue,” Landgraf said.
The city spent a total of $3.2 million and received an historic preservation grant to rehabilitate the building, which included replacing the old boiler in the basement that was flooded during the storm.
“The HVAC was a significant portion of that,” Landgraf said.
Landgraf said he believes the system is not taking enough moisture out of the air to properly heat and cool the building. There are no leaks in the building, he said.
Mento said the problems with HVAC have existed throughout the tenure of the current administration, which was seated in May 2016. Landgraf said the city has documentation showing the HVAC has been problematic for years.
“We have receipts for calls for service,” he said.
“The system doesn’t come on when it’s supposed to. It’s been non-stop problems since they’ve been in office,” Mento said.
The city will contact its Joint Insurance Fund to see how to proceed with obtaining reimbursement for the work. In the meantime, the city will have to pay for it through bonding previously approved for other projects.
“We don’t know how much this is going to cost us to correct,” Mento said. “But basically, this means that capital improvements on other city properties, such as the Lifeguard Headquarters and Public Works roof projects might have to wait.”