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Orange, DEP tackle mold in cop station

ORANGE — Orange police officers may look a little more congested than usual as they continue to work out of a police station with a mold problem.

According to Chief Robert Haigh, the air quality issues resulting from the mold are confined to areas housing staff offices and the officers’ locker room.

The booking room, the holding cells and the interview rooms are all separated from the mold odor by a door. According to Haigh, the smell is not noticeable in those areas.

But for police personnel, the moldy odor noticeable throughout the rest of the building has caused ongoing symptoms similar to the seasonal allergies many people experience.

Haigh has set up phones and computer work stations in the mobile command unit outside the station for staff who are more sensitive to the problem.

“We are being flexible, allowing people to do work in the command unit or outside the office” until the problem is resolved, he said.

Haigh is in process of getting quotes to eradicate the mold.

He said he has been working with officials from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to assess the source of the problem, which seems to the station’s back room.

The department is currently replacing old carpets in that area with tile, as recommended by the state.

While Haigh said the mold does not seem to be located in the rugs, the upgrade was necessary. Due to heavy traffic in that area, “we need flooring that does not absorb water,” he said.

He said the fiberboard and concrete block wall construction may contribute to the mold problem. As there is no insulation in the building’s attic, Haigh said the fiberboard absorbs condensation from the concrete blocks when hot air mixes with cold air, such as when the air conditioner runs in the summer or when the heater is on in winter.

“And we’ve had so much rain this year, that can’t have helped,” he said.

Haigh said mold growing on the south-facing roof over the back room may indicate interior water damage, as that would normally be an unlikely location for such growth. The roof will likely need repair or replacement, as well, he said.

There is no money budgeted for the project. Haigh said he developed the department’s budget with Town Administrator Diana Schindler before the mold was noticeable.

“I’ve been talking with Diana, and a couple people on the Finance Committee have approached me — they know what’s going on here.

Haigh said he will present final project estimates to selectmen and the Finance Committee.

Selectboard Chair Kathy Reinig said that Haigh can draw from other areas of his budget to pay for the mold eradication. But if and when those line items are overdrawn, voters will need to approve a transfer from the reserve account at a Special Town Meeting.

Haigh said he hopes to complete the work by fall. “We don’t want to be working out of a trailer in the middle of winter. But I don’t want a $50,000 band-aid, either.”

According to Haigh, the mold was first detected in the building in 2005. “Presumably, it wasn’t dealt with at that time because they didn’t have money.”

In addition, the smell disappeared — at least for a while. Haigh, who has worked for the department since 2002, said he has not detected the smell for the past eight years.

“Don’t ask me why, but they say that mold odor sometimes does that, the mold is still there but the odor comes and goes.”

While many of his staff do much of their work out of the building, Haigh continues to sit in the office. “All my paperwork and files are here,” he explained.

When asked about his own symptoms, he said that after several hours at his desk, his eyes were red and puffy, and his nose was congested.

“I try not to spend any more than a couple hours in here at a time. Then I go out, get some fresh air and come back in,” he said.

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