WALKER -- Cass County Board Wednesday authorized Wold Architects and Engineers of St. Paul to begin drawing plans preliminary to seeking bids for an addition to the social services building in Walker.
Adding onto the three-story building will enable the county to combine health and human services at one location. The county expects to sell the existing health services portion of the Walker Clinic building when the move is complete.
Actual bidding for the addition, however, will be contingent upon solving moisture problems in the existing building, from Board Chair Jim Demgen's and Commissioner Joanne Pels's viewpoint.
Employees in the existing social services building brought to light that wallpaper in bathrooms was peeling away from walls and appeared to have mildew.
Building and Grounds Superintendent Tom Emery stripped wallpaper from the lower floor women's bathroom to reveal mildew halfway up the outside wall and a third of the way up an interior adjoining wall.
Cutting through sheetrock and insulation shows the exterior cement wall is damp.
Similar, but less severe, problems have been suggested on upper floors.
Monday, the county will spend $2,000 to $3,000 to have Applied Environmental Sciences, air quality specialists, survey the extent mildew and other suggested problems are causing to air quality in the building.
Wold Architects and Engineers will be part of a county team trying to identify the source of the water problems.
Eric Linner of Wold told the board Wednesday he has no idea yet what corrective costs might be involved before problems in the existing 10-year-old building are corrected.
It is not uncommon, he said, to expect some problems with an existing building when an addition is made. However, the county construction budget does not currently cover costs to make major changes in the existing building.
Only normal connection and doorway opening costs, plus a few changes to interior walls are planned at this time. Only $50,000 of the $1,525,000 construction project is identified as a contingency fund.
Linner pointed out addition plans call for disconnecting the combined health and human services building from the courthouse heating and cooling system, except as an emergency back-up.
A new, separate furnace and cooling system will be installed in the addition, Linner explained.
He said this will save capacity in the courthouse heating and cooling system for any future addition to the courthouse or law enforcement complex.
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union representing social services workers, maintains the existing building problem is more long standing and severe than Emery indicated in his letter to the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry.
Randy Carlson, union president, wrote his own letter to the state agency, signed by union employees and maintaining air and temperature quality in the building has been a problem since employees occupied it in March 1990.
Air intake for the building is in a valley where vehicle exhaust fumes are pumped into the building, he wrote. The building design does not permit air to be expelled from it, causing exterior doors to be forced open, Carlson wrote.
Window blinds and hardware must be removed to permit opening windows even two inches, Carlson wrote. Water damage in restrooms occurred some time ago, he added.
Employees have a concern mold spores and box elder bug feces have accumulated in air ducts and are being circulated throughout the building, according to Carlson. Air ducts have not been cleaned in 10 years, he indicated.
In an unofficial survey the union membership conducted, 18 employees said lack of air circulation causes fatigue, nausea, dizziness, light headedness and shortness of breath and affects their ability to perform tasks.
Respondents to the same survey showed 14 employees believe sore throats and headaches are caused by building air quality, with seven reporting swollen and itchy eyes, seven reporting sneezing and runny noses, six reporting burning eyes and five finding difficulty breathing.
If the addition construction continues on the timetable Linner projects at this time, it could be occupied a year from now, he told the board.
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