Extended exposure to black mold is known to cause respiratory, circulatory and neurological damage and that just might be what Mexico Beach police officers are experiencing.
During the council’s pre-agenda meeting last week, the topic of conversation turned to modular buildings. The city has had plans to relocate the police and fire departments out of the current location on 14th Street for years but a financially-feasible solution has yet to be reached.
During the discussion, Police Chief Glenn Norris expressed a desire to move sooner rather than later.
“We’re in a bad situation in the building we’re in,” said Norris. “We should do something as quick as we can.”
In November 2010, a mold inspection was completed on the old city hall and police headquarters and the results determined that if personnel were to stay in the buildings, the air conditioning unit and carpets would need to be replaced and the interior cleaned.
Dehumidifiers were also suggested to be run at all times.
After the initial inspection, city hall workers were relocated to a temporary building in a refurbished bank along U.S. Highway 98, but the public safety departments stayed put.
The police chief tried to be understanding by noting that the old city hall building had higher levels of spores, but the police department had a wider variety of potentially dangerous spores.
Norris said that in addition to mold dangers, the building has water damaged walls and flooded three times in recent memory. He said that he and his team have cleaned and painted the building repeatedly and the air conditioning unit has been out for 2-3 weeks.
They did receive a window air conditioning unit until a decision on a modular building could be reached.
“We put lipstick on the pig, but the pig is still bad,” said Councilwoman Tanya Castro.
In July, the council accepted bids for a modular unit that would meet the police department’s needs. They received 14 bids, but not all of them included the cost of a foundation, a state requirement.
“Some decisions have to be made,” said Mayor Al Cathey, responding to Norris. “We’re sympathetic.”
The bids called for foundation work for a modular unit to be finished by Nov. 1 and installation work to complete by Dec. 13.
Cathey said that a solution should be in place by the first of the year.
Norris had proposed purchasing a modular unit he located in Port St. Joe that could be upgraded to comply with Florida building codes.
“It’s not an option we should consider,” said Castro. “It’s a money pit.”
Norris made a final appeal to the council and said that some employees have begun feeling sick and been to the doctor.
“Exposure to the mold is causing them to have breathing problems,” said Norris. “We’ve band-aided the building, but it can only be patched so much.”
Norris included himself in the employees who were potentially feeling the effects of the spores and reported that Mexico Beach police officers typically work for 12-16 hours a day.
A large majority of that work is done inside the police department.
“We’ve done everything we can,” said Norris. “We’re in an unsafe building,”