Concerns about mold lead to inspection of New London police HQ
New London — The city has made its fair share of fixes to the troubled New London police headquarters.
Over the years, crews have patched the roof and replaced ceiling tiles. They’ve covered problematic windows and added new plasterboard. They’ve caulked and re-caulked portions of the three-decade-old building, always hoping the latest fix will be the last.
But with last Tuesday’s driving rain, water again fell from the ceiling of the shift commander’s office, forcing administrators to move operations to another room and prompting the city police union to file a complaint with the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
In its Jan. 24 complaint, the union alleges weakened plasterboard has fallen from the ceiling and onto employees’ heads because of the “serious” leak. It lists its primary concern, however, as “the fear of potential mold and fungi exposure” in the bustling shift commander’s office, which serves as home base for sergeants and lieutenants but also houses cruiser keys, administrative files and end-of-shift reports.
The complaint, however, didn’t make it to OSHA before city Risk Manager Paul Gills called and invited the agency in. In other words, when an OSHA inspector visited the department Friday and again on Monday, it wasn’t for enforcement — it was for consultation.
“We’re after the same goal,” Gills said. “We want to make sure this important building, which is occupied 24/7, 365 days a year, is cleaned up. We want to stop the water infiltration and give them a decent place to work.”
According to Gills, the problem stems more from the walls than the roof. He said original construction workers failed to place enough flashing, or weatherproofing, material in key areas and, despite the city’s best efforts to make repairs, water issues remain.
Gills said public works officials are considering multiple proposals for the police department. One idea that has been tossed around, he said, is placing a metal roof on the building.
“That’s pricy and out there, but it has been proposed,” he said.
No matter what, he said, the leaking “will be addressed.”
OSHA Communications Director Nancy Steffens on Tuesday confirmed the agency is working with city officials, but couldn’t say more about the nature of the consultation because it is an open case.
Officers who were present said the inspector gathered swabs and air samples from the shift commander’s office, Capt. Todd Bergeson’s office, the evidence room, the booking area, a third-floor hallway near where the detectives work and the back deck of the building.
It’s not the first time leaks have plagued the aging building.
Back in 2005, workers ripping down walls for a planned update of the dispatch center found mold covering an entire wall. Test results later showed the room hosted three types of mold that, though not uncommon, could exacerbate health conditions such as asthma. The city in 2006 spent almost $200,000 repairing the building’s roof.
In October 2016, OSHA took note of water-stained tiles within the station and said the wall near the detectives bureau supported “active fungal growth.” It called on the city to replace the affected plasterboard and tiles, which Gills said officials did.
Within the past few months, contractors visited the building to place covers over the slanted windows that frame the shift commander’s office. That fix, the union said on its website, was an “epic fail.”
According to Lynch, the union’s most recent complaint has been put on hold as officials await lab results from the samples OSHA gathered. City officials have been told it could take three or more weeks before the results are in.
Alluding to discussions about body cameras in recent meetings, Lynch called on city officials to consider necessities rather than “things that are nice to have.”
“We keep talking about body cameras — which the union is not against, by the way — but I hope next meeting we can talk about whether our employees can breathe without getting sick,” Lynch said.
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