County acts on anonymous complaint

Published 5:03 pm Friday, March 24, 2023

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GATESVILLE – An anonymous complaint about the possible presence of mold at what will be the new location of the Gates County Board of Elections prompted action by county officials.

At their regularly scheduled meeting here March 15, the Gates County Commissioners were advised of the complaint. The commissioners earlier this year finalized plans to relocate the Board of Elections from Reid’s Grove Rosenwald School in Gatesville to the old Dental Clinic building located on Medical Center Road near the high school. That move was opposed by the Board of Elections as they had asked the county to upgrade safety and security concerns at its current location.

In his update to the commissioners at last week’s meeting, interim County Manager Scott Sauer referenced a March 6 letter to the county from the North Carolina Department of Labor / Occupational Health and Safety Division. That letter was in reference to county owned property at 25 Medical Center Road, which is the location of the former Dental Clinic.

Sauer said the letter claimed there were potential hazards identified by an unknown individual or individuals who had visited that building.

“The letter stated they experienced symptoms including abnormal breathing, headache and congestion, and there are concerns that the symptoms could have been due to exposure to mold,” Sauer said.

Other complaints, he said, were that the building’s foundation appears to be deteriorating, and that lead and asbestos may be present in the building and hazardous waste materials could be distributed during the future renovation work, to include the addition of a new HVAC unit.

Sauer said that upon receiving this notice, the county contacted an environmental firm to serve as a consultant. Mid Atlantic Associates sent an industrial hygiene professional on Friday, March 10. That on site assessment noted that the building (4,940 square feet) was constructed in 1979-80.

Approximately three-fourths of that space is currently occupied, on a part-time basis, by a local food pantry.

The Mid Atlantic representative noted that the current HVAC system was “functioning” and has been doing so for the past four years.

“The gentleman went room by room in his assessment and he noted that at the proposed future Gates County office space [Board of Elections] there was no evidence of mold, flaking paint and no damaged building materials were observed,” Sauer said in his report. “He cites that upon entry to the lobby of the building, no odor or immediate evidence of mold infestation was identified.”

Additionally, the report noted the presence of past water damage to the ceiling (a three square foot section) in one of the rooms currently occupied by the food pantry. There was no discoloration to the ceiling or evidence of mold growth.

“He observed there was the potential of mold growth on the hard metal insulated ductwork in the lobby,” Sauer reported. “He indicated that flaking paint was observed on approximately 50 square feet of the ceiling in the bathroom near the entrance foyer. He noted the interior and exterior foundation was observed with no visible cracks in the walls or leaks.”

The inspection did note the presence of dust and insect matter, but that was deemed normal for a building that has been unoccupied for an extended period of time.

“He states the overall condition of the former dental office and current food pantry appears to be suitable for occupancy with minimal actions,” Sauer said, adding that the county has requested this firm perform a more in-depth analysis to include testing for lead paint and asbestos, and air sampling to identify whether or not mold is present.

The cost is up to $15,000 and it can be scheduled as early as this week.

“We want to be doubly sure that none of the hazards, which were identified in this complaint, are presenting any risks for our employees or visitors,” Sauer remarked. “But if there are any hazards identified, we can work to remedy those very quickly.”

Sauer added that the letter from the State Department of Labor required a response within seven business days.

“We met that requirement,” he stressed. “In our response we included the notes from the on site assessment made by Mid Atlantic Associates.”

He said the county also contacted a biologist who works extensively with mold remediation. That person has yet to arrive to perform an assessment, but they do have the notes made by the Mid Atlantic representative.

“I’m glad to hear there are no serious problems [at the building],” stated Commission Vice Chair Linda Hofler. “I’ve been working in there for years [as a food pantry volunteer] with no ill effects.”

“The first assessment [report] was good, but to ensure that everything is viable I believe we should take that next step, be meticulous that the building is safe,” said Commissioner Brian Rountree.

On a motion from Hofler, the board voted 5-0 to approve a further analysis of the building as outlined by Sauer.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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