A new report detailing mold infestations in two unoccupied rooms at the City Building has prompted Hastings officials to begin planning the temporary relocation of all municipal offices housed there.
Samples taken from Rooms 206 and 206A on Feb. 28 indicated colonies of Cladosporium mold on the inside and outside of ventilation ducts, according to a report from Quad-C Consulting of Wood River. Other types of mold also were detected in smaller amounts.
The rooms in question are on the second floor. The samples were taken by the Quad-C firm and analyzed by the AEMTEK Inc. laboratory in Fremont, California.
Quad-C recommended hiring an experienced firm to clean the ductwork, and then to have a post-remediation inspection and air sampling done.
Marty Stange, the city’s environmental director, reported on the test findings at Monday’s Hastings City Council meeting in the building in question.
City officials received the report on March 8, Stange said. That was just two days after the second of two recent tour and town hall meeting events officials conducted to gather public input regarding the building’s future.
Stange said the testing was ordered because officials were planning to turn the two rooms into an office for the new city safety director but could see mold growing around the ductwork.
Officials already had identified mold as one of several issues needing attention in the building at 220 N. Hastings Ave., which was built as a bank in 1963 and has housed city offices since 1984.
Roof and foundation problems and the presence of asbestos are among the various concerns.
Radon gas levels in the basement were elevated until the city addressed that problem through ventilation.
New City Administrator Shawn Metcalf is leading a special committee examining potential options for repair or renovation of the building or permanent relocation of city offices to a new, smaller building or some other location.
At the recent town hall meetings, attendees voiced strong support for retaining and either repairing or renovating the current building. The city also has put out a survey allowing residents to express their opinions. The survey is open through March 22.
Stange said while it will take some time for the City Council to determine the long-term future of the City Building, employees need to be moved out now for the sake of their health.
Once the employees were relocated, Stange said, mold remediation could move forward and the council could take the time to make good decisions about the building’s future — decisions informed in part by learning more about damage beneath the rubber membrane roof once the membrane is pulled back.
“It’s my recommendation we get the employees out so we can address these things. It’s just a lot easier to do it than try to work around all the employees and so forth.”
Metcalf, who began work for the city three months ago, agreed with Stange that employee health and safety are the immediate priority. He noted that several employees have approached him with concerns about their health as it relates to the City Building’s condition, and he said he doesn’t believe just cleaning the air ducts will be enough to ensure workers’ safety.
“I just feel a moral and ethical obligation to make sure it’s a safe place,” Metcalf said.
Councilmen Shawn Hartmann and Butch Eley and Mayor Corey Stutte also expressed their support for getting employees temporarily relocated now.
Stutte said the City Building’s future has become politicized and the committee Metcalf is leading will help the council evaluate its options — but that politics must take a back seat to workers’ health.
“I’m not concerned about political gridlock at this point,” he said. “I’m concerned about the health and safety of our employees.”
Metcalf said he believes one-third to one-half of the employees now working out of the City Building could be temporarily relocated to a building at 3505 Yost Ave. in north Hastings, a former Corteva Agriscience facility that the city acquired from the Hastings Economic Development Corp. in 2021.
Officials are checking around the community for additional space to house the other workers, Metcalf said. They were planning to meet on Tuesday to discuss options.
Various problems with the City Building, including real or potential environmental hazards, first were detailed to the City Council in a report by Stange in June 2020. At the time, former City Administrator Dave Ptak blamed deferred maintenance for much of the trouble.
Public meetings were moved out of the building for several months in 2021 — and officials considered moving all employees out, as well. That plan was shelved after ventilation helped to bring down the radon levels.
Stange said workers have been making efforts in the basement to clean up mold, further improve air quality and prevent new mold from growing, but that the recent findings on the second floor prove much more extensive work is needed.
“We can clean those areas up, but it’s just a confirmation that for a long time we’ve known there’s mold throughout the building,” he said. “It’s in the ductwork. Those ducts haven’t been cleaned in a long time.”
At Monday’s meeting, Stutte said the city administrator has the authority to temporarily relocate municipal offices for health and safety reasons. Therefore, no council action on that matter was necessary.
The council would need to pass a resolution moving its meetings to another temporary location. That step wasn’t taken on Monday, so for now the meetings will remain in the City Council chambers.
Hartmann, who is in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning business, said he would not want his employees working in an environment like the City Building provides presently.
He asked Metcalf what he needs from the City Council to ensure workers are relocated promptly.
“You get people in a lifeboat before you worry about the ship sinking, right?” he asked.
Eley said he was unhappy two years ago when employees, who spend many hours in the building, were left working there while council and other meetings were moved to the Hastings Public Library. He pointed to “foot dragging” by the previous city administrator.
“I was pretty angry that our employees were still in the building but we were moved out,” he said.
About 25 members of the public attended Monday’s meeting. Many of those present attended one or both of the recent City Building tours and town hall meetings.
Peg Wallace urged the council to approve expenditures to remediate the environmental problems quickly and avoid letting conditions deteriorate further.
She said she believed the building’s ductwork could be cleaned in a week by a four-person crew.
“Save the disruption of moving city employees,” Wallace said. “Save many taxpayer dollars. Fix the building.”
Dr. Richard French, a retired Hastings physician, said the type of mold found in Rooms 206 and 206A is the most common type of mold found in homes and isn’t toxic but could cause problems for individuals with asthma and other underlying health conditions.
French said the mold can be cleaned up and prevented from re-growing by fixing leaks and perhaps replacing carpet or drywall after it’s been wet.
“It’s manageable,” he said.
Councilman Marc Rowan said the timing of the mold report seems strange, coming within days of the City Building tours.
Rowan said constituents wonder why so much maintenance has been deferred at the building and some wonder if the structure has been allowed to deteriorate on purpose.
“I’ve got good people coming up to me and saying, ‘It’s as if they want the building to go bad,’ ” he said.
Stange said city officials knew the mold sample results were pending at the time of the recent tours but had to wait for the laboratory to finish its work.
Metcalf assured council members the City Building committee will present the council with a repair option for consideration alongside other possibilities.
Stutte, who has been mayor for six years, said City Building maintenance has been deferred because council members never could agree on how much money to spend on it.
“It’s been a political issue,” Stutte said. “ …That’s what it comes down to.”
To take the City Building survey, go online to https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/VSBY99G. Paper copies are available from the Development Services or administration offices at the City Building; the Hastings Public Library, 314 N. Denver Ave.; North Denver Station (Hastings Utilities office), 1228 N. Denver Ave.; or the city Parks and Recreation Department office, 2015 W. Third St.
Metcalf said Monday that more than 400 survey questionnaires already have been submitted.
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