LINCOLN, Maine — Lincoln will get a new town office on Fleming Street, under a plan town leaders approved Monday night, but that news may be overshadowed by a significant amount of what appeared to be mold found in the basement of the present office, officials said Tuesday.
Lincoln Town Council Chairman Steve Clay said administrators would consult with health officials to determine the safety of Horeb Lodge No. 93 for town workers and office visitors. More than a century old, the three-story Masonic building is located at 63 Main St. The town pays $2,566 per month to lease office space there.
“I think we are going to try to get someone in there today to determine if it is safe,” Clay said Tuesday.
The office opened for business at its regular time, 8 a.m. Tuesday. During Monday night’s meeting, Councilor Curt Ring said town workers found in the basement what they described as a large amount of dark-colored mold — enough to overgrow a baseball hat, cover small sections of floor and force the meeting to relocate to Mattanawcook Academy.
He passed around several pictures town workers had taken of the basement.
“Basically, what we have are some serious issues with mold,” Ring said Monday night, holding up a photo. “This is mold that is on the floor with a ruler next to it. I can’t really read what the ruler says, but the mold in several pictures is growing like grass up from the floor.”
Masonic President Mark Weatherbee and members of the lodge who attended the meeting questioned Tuesday whether the substance was mold. Clay conceded the substance on the hat, which had been preserved in a plastic bag since emails of the pictures had been sent to Clay at 3:30 p.m., had not been tested.
“I guess my question is, if that much is visible then how much is not visible?” Ring said. “Frankly, I am not comfortable having town office personnel working in that building until we know exactly what it is we are dealing with there. I have asked the town manager to possibly secure us a temporary facility for the town office in the near future until we get it tested. If it is something that is potentially dangerous, I am not comfortable having town workers working in [the building] until we have it tested.”
No one complained of illness, Ring said, but several in the audience said the smell occasionally was pronounced.
Weatherbee said Tuesday he was unsure whether the substance was mold but said the basement had been closed for several weeks, lacked significant airflow and had a small amount of standing water. He said a carpenter at the meeting said the problem could be prevented in the future by the use of cement sealant.
He said the town workers were not typically allowed into the area without permission and questioned whether they should have been allowed to remove items from it, such as the hat.
Masons and other concerned residents likely will start a petition drive to force a referendum vote on the potential relocation of the town office, which the council voted 5-1 to pursue Monday, Weatherbee said.
Under the vote, the council gave town administrators permission to pursue a lease with developer Sterling Osgood to move to an open space on Fleming Street, where Osgood plans to build a single-story structure for a town office.
Weatherbee said the decision seemed hasty and occurred without significant regard for a 2012 vote in which residents overwhelmingly opposed relocating the town office. A successful petition drive would require signatures from 10 percent of residents who voted in the last election, he said.
Conditions in the office have been subject to dispute intermittently since 2004. Town officials occasionally have described the office as cramped, lacking records space and full access for disabled residents. The masons have said the building was a good bargain for the town in a great location to support downtown businesses.