Falmouth delays action on $930,000 plan to address mold, rodent waste and other problems at Town Hall

Posted Sept. 11, 2013, at 2:37 p.m.

FALMOUTH, Maine — A decision on whether to move forward with $930,000 in Falmouth Town Hall renovations is on hold until the Town Council can discuss financing and construction management in more detail.

While councilors Monday agreed the building needs many of the fixes recommended in a 125-page study by Oak Point Associates commissioned in late 2012, they hesitated to begin the bidding process.

Councilors preferred dealing with the more immediate health and environmental safety issues over general building repair and maintenance. A few were also concerned about the project cost rising after work begins.

Town Council Chairwoman Teresa Pierce said her main concerns centered on issues of air quality and environmental safety.

“I think our public institutions, while not needing to be grandiose, should be respectable to come into and the buildings we’re asking people to work in should be safe and comfortable,” Pierce said. “There’s some real air quality and health issues going on that demand our attention sooner than later.”

One of the most significant issues the report noted is “elevated mold spore activity” in the crawl space of the building, with airborne mold spores being passively vented through the floor register into the town clerk’s office.

The assessment also found that ceiling tiles have been damaged by pipe condensation and rodent urine and feces.

The areas have since been sealed off, but the mold and moisture issues still must be permanently addressed, according to the report.

Town Manager Nathan Poore said prime areas of concern, in addition to the air-quality problems, are exterior building envelope issues, space inefficiencies and mechanical and electrical updates.

One of the space renovations Poore said could be done relatively inexpensively is reconfiguring the Finance Department office to free up another 300 square feet for the Falmouth Food Pantry.

The pantry has seen its demand skyrocket in recent years and its directors have said it needs additional space for storage and confidential meetings with clients.

Exterior renovations would include new siding, windows and doors.

Many of the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems are obsolete and need to be replaced, as well, Poore said.

Prior to the meeting, councilors toured Town Hall and were shown the deficiencies.

“A guy once told me my lawn is a 30 mph lawn. It looks really good at 30 mph, but when you get in and really examine it, it needs help,” Councilor Russ Anderson said, noting that a closer look at the building helped him better understand Town Hall’s needs.

Still, councilors were hesitant to start the nearly $1 million project, with some noting that most renovations, once the work starts, often lead to unexpected costs.

“Health and safety come before anything else,” Councilor Chris Orestis said. “Above all else, those need to be addressed immediately. … I’m not sure if the rest should be done in phases. I know when you start one thing, once you’re in, it’s all or nothing.”

Councilor Sean Mahoney cited similar concerns.

“I want to make sure that we wrestle with any other options available,” Mahoney said. “I don’t want to spend $1 million and then have to spend another $5 million or $10 million five years from now.”

One of the questions remaining for councilors is what the town will do with the Community Services program, which has been proposed to move to the former Mason-Motz school Building on Middle Road.

The building still needs to have some safety and health renovations completed before the program can move into the space, Poore said. Councilors are expected to take up that discussion in October.

On Sept. 23, councilors are expected to dive deeper into the financing of the Town Hall renovations when they discuss town accounts, including the undesignated fund balance, considered a potential source to tap for the project.

Town Hall has had two major additions and renovations since its construction at the turn of the 20th century. The first addition in 1960 is now the home of the food pantry and was formerly the police station. The building’s last large renovation was in 1990, when the second floor was added along with the portion that includes the Town Council Chambers.

New carpeting and paint were added in 2008.

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