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Mold issues arise at Taylor County Judicial Center

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Center could be closed for two weeks to clean

By Josh Claywell

 

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The Taylor County Fiscal Court heard about ongoing mold issues at the Taylor County Judicial Center in a special-called meeting Monday afternoon at the Taylor County Courthouse.

Mold and humidity issues have begun wreaking havoc on the 10-year-old judicial center building and have progressively gotten worse over the last few months.

On Aug. 10, Barry Goodin of Paul Davis Restoration in Elizabethtown contacted Environmental Safety Technologies to perform testing for possible fungal contamination in the judicial center.

Three days later, Richard Madison, a certified industrial hygienist with EST, conducted a limited walkthrough inspection of the judicial center. Madison collected fungal air spore trap and surface samples and measured the building’s vital signs in order to compare indoor and outdoor environmental conditions.

Six fungal air spore trap samples and nine fungal surface samples were collected to determine if the building had a mold issue and posed a potential health risk. All samples were calculated and reported as numbers of fungal spores per cubic meter, and the results were staggering.

According to EST, two of the six samples collected indoors were typical of normal indoor air with types and concentrations of fungal spores being similar to the outdoor sample, but with a significantly lower concentration. But there were a few problematic areas found during the inspection.

In Courtroom 201, there were 8,640 spores identified. Other fungal spores were also detected, but the types and concentrations were typical of a normal indoor environment. In Courtroom 301, there were 15,500 spores detected.

Several other problem spots were also identified, like the wall above the judge’s desk and the center HVAC diffuser in Courtroom 201, a bench in the back and the vent/wall above the judge’s desk in Courtroom 301, the HVAC returns in Courtroom 202 and the grand jury room and the HVAC diffuser in the wall of the kitchen.

Dr. Richard Miller, a microbiologist and the director of laboratory services with EST, then sent an email to County-Judge Execute Eddie Rogers, Circuit Court Judge Todd Spalding and Ernie Breeding, who the county hired to conduct maintenance at the judicial center, outlining the issues and recommendations for getting rid of the mold.

The Administrative Office of the Courts, which county attorney John Bertram said is the operational branch of the judicial branch and supports court facilities and programs in all of Kentucky’s 120 counties, has also gotten involved.

Suggestions for improvements were emailed to Breeding and Judge Rogers on Aug. 10, by the AOC, which included timer settings, temperature settings, among others.

A week later, however, Judge Rogers found that Breeding had not taken any actions on the suggestions from AOC.

“As you all are aware, there is an annual contract for the maintenance services at the judicial center as there is for the detention center and this building,” Bertram told the court. “We recently executed a new contract for services with Anchor Construction Management and Ernie Breeding. It was opened up for bids and it was the only bid received. Those pre-bid requirements were spelled out, which also included a walkthrough. Judge (Rogers) completed a walkthrough with Ernie, which wouldn’t have been anything new – I don’t think – with Ernie because he’s done this work before on the judicial center.”

The work could take up to two weeks, and Bertram said the AOC recommended closing the building during the cleaning process.

“There’s obviously a mold problem in the building. It’s a serious problem. The report lays that out,” Bertram said. “As I understand it, there were concerns brought to Ernie’s attention, things that needed to be done before a follow-up, and that’s what Judge Rogers was referring to. By the date that follow-up occurred, as I understand, those things had not been addressed. I don’t know if they have at this point, but that in and of itself was cause for alarm. Once you’ve been told you’ve got a problem and you need to see to these things by such-and-such date, and then that date rolls around and those issues have not been addressed.”

Bertram told the court he had been in contact with Rogers and Spalding throughout the process. They then brought the issue before the fiscal court, and several employees from the judicial center attended.

District 1 Magistrate James Jones asked Bertram and Spalding what Breeding’s response was when confronted about the issues.

“The needs were emailed to him last Friday (Aug. 10),” Spalding said. “The AOC people confronted him on Aug. 17, the same day that Judge Rogers and Judge [Allen] Bertram and myself and our other judges and several other people met with him. They went to see him before they met with us, sometime around 12:30 or 1 o’clock that day, and his response was he lost the email. While we were meeting, that individual he was told to contact was contacted. After the state people had confronted him earlier that day, he attempted to contact them while we were meeting to discuss it with Judge Rogers.”

John Bertram then asked Spalding if he could shed any light on what was currently being done in the building to help with the mold.

“Very little,” he responded. “Our two big courtrooms are rooms 201 and 301. Those are the big courtrooms. The mold level in room 301 when the state came to do it was 15,500 on the third floor. By comparison, outside that day on a hot and humid day, it was 4,910. Room 201 was at a level of 8,640. The environmental people have told us that it is unsafe for us to conduct court in those rooms, and that they pose, to use their term, a significant health risk.”

Because of that, Spalding said District Judge Amy Anderson was unable to use either of the big courtrooms for her docket Monday morning.

That led her to moving to one of the family courtrooms, which Spalding said only holds 20 to 30 people at most.

“I can’t even begin to describe what an inconvenience that’s going to be to do that, and how problematic that is,” he said. “But we’ll do it and we’ll work through it. It’s just gonna make for lengthier, longer days.”

Spalding said employees in the clerk’s office are asking questions about when the work will happen. They are concerned about health issues relating to the mold conditions in the building.

“Frankly, there’s nobody who works in that building that hasn’t developed some type of respiratory illness of some sort from being exposed to that mold,” Spalding said. “… At this point in time, a lot of people have no way of knowing exactly what the mold content is in the environment they’re working in on a daily basis. At some point in the future, we’re gonna have to shut the building down for two weeks. That will be challenging, to put it mildly, but we’ll make it work. It’s not gonna be an easy thing to fix.”

John Bertram asked Spalding if any of the issues were currently being addressed, but the judge said they weren’t. Until the fiscal court decided what step to take, Spalding said he wasn’t sure the state would take any measures until the situation was addressed.

That’s when Breeding came back into the discussion. Breeding’s company, Anchor Construction Management, was the only bid when the fiscal court was looking for a maintenance company for fiscal year 2018-19. But the company hasn’t done the work it was asked to perform.

“I think it’s been made very clear, that (the state) will not approve anymore work with Ernie in the future. I hope that goes without saying,” Bertram said. “It’s up to this court to determine what it does right now going forward with Ernie. But this court is gonna have to direct that the short-term, preventative or identifying measures to be completed to figure out whether they’re gonna be at least able to address the problem and begin to fix it. It’s gonna have to be cleaned, obviously.”

District 6 Magistrate Richard Phillips asked Judge Spalding what it would take to get everything fixed and the building fully operational. Spalding responded that the judicial center has already lined up a company to help fix the issues. Phillips asked if there was anything the court could do, financially or otherwise, to help the cause.

“As far as the bids, they will come back and AOC will have to OK the bids that come back to us,” Judge Rogers said.

The bid process could be complicated, Bertram said.

“So AOC has already contacted an independent contractor to do what you asked Mr. Breeding to do?” District 2 Magistrate John Gaines asked. “Do you have a timeframe when they’ll come and adjust these units?”

Judge Spalding then read from the email sent from AOC.

The biggest issue pointed out was that Breeding did not know how to operate the computer software that controls the judicial center’s HVAC system.

“I’m not really sure how much the state is gonna do as far as placing new computers or new systems in there until they’re convinced they’ve got somebody in place that will know how to operate the software,” Spalding said. “It doesn’t make any difference what kind of adjustments they make to the mechanical system if a person who’s going to be adjusting that mechanical system doesn’t know how to do it.”

Magistrate Jones then asked what the next step the court could legally take.

“This is gonna be at least two steps, and I’m not sure which is going to be first and second, but ultimately the court’s gonna be asked to decide if you’re going to go forward with Ernie or somebody else,” Bertram said. “The second thing is, if you are moving forward without Ernie, we’ve got to begin the process to identify somebody that can address these issues.”

After several moments of discussion, Bertram told the magistrates they could take action to authorize Judge Rogers to find someone to replace Breeding. Magistrate Jones asked what could be done about Breeding’s contract.

“You can terminate the contract,” Bertram said.

Magistrate Jones made a motion to withdraw the contract from Breeding and ask Rogers to look for a temporary solution to operate the system going forward. District 5 Magistrate Derrick Bright seconded the motion.

The measure passed unanimously following a roll-call vote.

“I don’t think we have any other choice, Judge,” Jones told Rogers. “We can’t continue to let the people have to suffer through that. I think the world of Ernie, personally, but I think this is the right thing for us to do.”

The court then went into executive session for more than 90 minutes. No action was taken in executive session.