WHISPER: After $4.9 Million Face Lift, Photos Show Larcom Basement Filled With Mold, Unrepaired 8 Months After Flood
by P.D. Lesko
“I just hope everyone who’s asked to sign a petition gets all the information about the condition of the spaces we’re trying to replace and the cost of not doing anything,” said Council Member Chris Easthope, who’s worked on the plan for a new police-court building for several years.—Ann Arbor News, April 2008
After asking for concessions from hundreds of unionized employees, John Hieftje, Council members Sabra Briere, Tony Derezinski, Christopher Taylor and Marcia Higgins sponsored a resolution to give $10,000 to the city’s CFO, Tom Crawford, who earns $125,000 per year plus his cell phone and car allowances, for his “exemplary work” while interim City Administrator. A member of Crawford’s staff in an email to A2Politico called the bonus “a slap in the face to every city worker who was asked to give pay concessions. It’s shameful.” A comment on AnnArbor.com in response to a post on the news blog about the bonus asked, “How can any valuable lower pay scale employee have any respect for the folks running this show?”
It’s a good question.
Over the past 36 months, the Hieftje administration has consistently found money for bonuses, lump sum payments, vacation day cash outs, pay bumps and perks for senior managers. What the Hieftje administration has not found money for is to repair the mouldering, damaged, basement of the Larcom building, flooded in February of 2011, after taxpayers footed the bill for a multi-million dollar renovation.
The basement space, part of a $4.9 million dollar renovation of the Larcom Building, is supposed to be where police officers have their locker rooms. The state of the officer’s locker rooms, as well as the Larcom basement, was cited over and over by politicos as one of the main reasons why a new police-court building had to be built at a cost of $48 million dollars.
The A2Journal recently ran a little-noticed piece which revealed the fact that the city’s police officers have to report for work each day at the Wheeler Center, located on Stone School Road near Ellsworth, about 20-25 minutes from new police-court building and the adjoining Larcom building.
So why are the city’s police officers dressing in a meeting room in Pittsfield Township then driving into Ann Arbor instead of dressing in the basement locker rooms of the Larcom building? Because eight months ago, in February of 2011, the basement of the Larcom Building flooded, “waist deep,” said one police officer, “with hundreds of thousands of gallons of water from a broken pipe.”
City officials told AnnArbor.com in February of 2011 that the basement flooded with “about one inch of water.” Ann Arbor spokesperson Lisa Wondrash told AnnArbor.com “flooring would have to be replaced.”
The photo of the basement’s central area, right, taken last week and leaked to A2Politico, shows evidence of water damage to the brick walls almost up to the 10th course of brick, some 24 inches from the floor. The photo would appear to contradict Wondrash’s claims that only an inch of water covered the area.
In addition to the locker rooms for the police officers, there’s a conference room in the basement of the Larcom Building. Though the flooding happened eight months ago, needed repairs have not been made by the contractor who was, according to AnnArbor.com, responsible for the accident.
There are credible allegations that the problems with the basement space go deeper than flooring.
Another Ann Arbor police officer, who asked not to be identified because of fear of retaliation, told A2Politico:
“The basement. It has been flooded 4-6 times. We are not sure exactly how many times — but the Union has asked for air samples and proof that there is no mold. The Union also asked to hire a private company to come in for testing which the City has conveniently not given an answer to. They are still playing games. We have been told that the basement was dried after each flood and that the contractor had drilled holes in the drywall to “make sure” it was not still wet or damp. We have learned from construction experts that once drywall is saturated (not to mention multiple times) it would need to be torn down to the studs to make sure mold was not growing in any wood framed areas.
The officer goes on to say, “This building has had serious leaks since 1964. The City has only masked the problem time after time — including now. We have beautiful greenery on the roof, shiny new siding — on top of a toxic cesspool.”
The basement of the Larcom Building, after the public spent almost $48 million dollars to build the new facility and renovate Larcom, is filled with mold, floor-to-ceiling, officers allege, allegations they backed up with photos taken last week. The first photo, left, shows portions of the new drop-ceiling, which litter the basement floor. The next photo shows a close-up of the fallen tiles, covered with mold, along with a portion of the water-damaged floor.
The final photo, below, is of a mold-infested, fallen ceiling tile with a stamped date of 7/31/2010.
Officers fear it may be the same genus of toxic mold that was found in the Larcom Building by a company city officials hired in 2006 to do an environmental evaluation. The only way to know what genus is shown in the photos is to have the mold cultured. Police officials allege city management is “still attempting to hide this and won’t allow any tests be done.”
Before the new police-court facility was built and the basement of the Larcom building “renovated,” the officers reported for work to City Hall and used locker rooms located in the basement of the Larcom Building.
Now, they spend an additional 40-60 minutes per day simply getting themselves to and from the downtown facility. They dress in a meeting room at the Wheeler Center that was, until the officers filed a grievance, not air conditioned and reached 106 degrees in the heat of the summer. The A2Journal reported, “The locker room, which also functions as a meeting room, at the Wheeler is not air conditioned. At one point…when Ann Arbor was under an excessive heat warning, the locker room reached 106 degrees. In the wintertime, it gets every bit as cold as it is hot in the summer. Officers have been told that air conditioning would be too expensive.”
The new police-court building, somewhat hopefully dubbed the Justice Center, is a hulking symbol of what some believe is the mismanagement of the city’s budget and fiscal priorities that would sacrifice services to fund big-ticket capital projects that the city simply can’t afford. The construction of the police-courts building was undertaken at a time when the city’s budget was slipping into structural deficit.The ongoing deficits, ironically, have been closed in part by shrinking the city’s police force, for whom the new facility was built because the police force was jammed into cramped, unkept quarters.
The 103,000 square foot building was sold to the public, in part, as “green,” but a recent class action lawsuit against the company that sells LEED certification alleges that, “What has been created is the image of energy efficient buildings, but not actual energy efficiency.” In 2008 when First Ward Council member Sabra Briere mentioned during Council discussions concerning the merit of the project that the building was not perceived as good looking, Fourth Ward Council member Margie Teall said she thought the building would be “beautiful.”
It’s not surprise that Teall rose in defense of the project. She sat on the 2006 Space Task Force, a committee stacked with politicos and political appointees who, one could argue, went into the job of “studying” whether a new building was necessary with some pre-conceived notions. First Ward Council member Sandi Smith, for instance, was solidly behind the need to spend big for an out-sized building in 2006 and then when she ran for Council in 2008.
The City Hall spin machine has been in high gear. Second Ward Council member Stephen Rapundalo, who has a Ph.D., but who is not an expert in the fields of toxicology or pulmonology, told AnnArbor.com in March 2011, “There is no evidence to support the union’s contention that they have a higher need for health care because of the building in which they were housed.” The news blog didn’t get an expert medical opinion, or consult an expert in environmental safety.
On April 21, 2011, three months after the February flood, while officers were forced to get dressed in a freezing room at the Wheeler Center, AnnArbor.com posted a piece titled, “Ann Arbor Police Chief says he was ashamed of conditions of police endured inside of city hall.” The misleading implication, of course, was that the conditions had been ameliorated when, in fact, the basement locker rooms were still unusable.
In the piece Police Chief Barnett Jones tells reporter Ryan Stanton, “As a chief, my people come first.”
In the same April 2011 piece, Stanton reported, incredibly:
Even though they have a new building, Ann Arbor police officers will continue to use the city hall basement, said Bob Cariano, the city’s safety manager.
Cariano said no employees will be stationed in the basement, but the police lockers and other meetings spaces that city employees will use are located there. He said the city has installed a completely new sub-slab pressurization radon mitigation system to ensure safety, and asbestos also has been removed.
Cariano said officers should only have to be in the basement locker rooms for a half-hour prior to the start of their shift and then at the end of their shift.
Other top city officials don’t disagree conditions were bad. And in fact, that’s one of the reasons cited for moving forward with construction of the new building.
Robert Cariano, the city’s Safety Manager, and a member of the Board of the Michigan Safety Conference, a non-profit organization that provides health and safety education to Michigan companies and cities, did not respond to repeated requests for comment concerning his statements to AnnArbor.com, and any actions the city has taken to ascertain whether there is a mold problem and, if so, what the city has done to address any infestation. Cariano’s boss, Sue McCormick, also refused to comment.
As for Council member Stephen Rapundalo’s unsubstantiated assertions, the pulmonologist who treated former Ann Arbor police officer Vada Murray disagreed with Rapundalo. Murray, a non-smoker, recently died after contracting lung cancer. Officer Murray left a video recording to be used after his death by his lawyers in which he said he believed his exposure to mold and asbestos in the Larcom Building was a contributing factor in his cancer. Murray’s doctor said the exposures are so vast i.e. radon, asbestos and mold—danger factors for officers who’ve worked in the Larcom Building are high.
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