PEPPERELL -- Cost estimates to remediate a mold infestation in the public-safety complex have risen to nearly $200,000.
The Finance Committee approved a request from Town Administrator John Moak Thursday to transfer $60,000 from the committee's reserve account to start the process of getting rid of the mold.
During a Special Town Meeting on Feb. 3, Moak will ask voters to appropriate an additional $150,000 to finish the process, which would include hiring an engineering firm, removing carpeting and drywall and replacing the HVAC system that has contributed to spreading the mold throughout the building.
Moak said based on estimates he has received, the entire process could cost $170,000 to $200,000.
"The $60,000 will start the project, and the Town Meeting (approval) will allow us to continue working to get the building back to a good environment for our staff," Moak said.
The cleaning process could take up to five months, he said.
While the mold is being removed, employees will be moved into two rented trailers in the building's parking lot. One will be used for administration and the other for police officers.
Access to evidence and equipment storage within the building will still be available.
Moak said he had looked into relocating employees elsewhere, including to the Peter Fitzpatrick building, but the moving costs and proximity away from storage made that option less desirable.
Until the work is completed, prisoners are being held by the Groton Police Department, as the holding cells in the basement of the complex are among the areas affected by the mold.
FinCom Chairman Melissa Tzanoudakis said the situation is an example of why it is necessary to develop a capital plan to allow the town to address such expensive needs.
"We really need to have a capital plan in town. It's something that hasn't been built in, and as a result we're going to start to see this happen in other buildings. It's not something that we're going to be able to deal with on an emergency basis, because the cost is astronomical," Tzanoudakis said.
Moak agreed that the high cost was a product of maintenance budgets that have been consistently reduced.
"The mold is a product of cutting back over the years," Moak said.
In the long term, Moak said the building won't meet the needs of the three departments housed there. He said he hopes to have a feasibility study done soon to look into the cost of renovating the building.
"We all know that the facility needs to be looked at and either replaced or completely renovated," Moak said.
FinCom member Robert Marti questioned why the mold problem had never been discussed before it reached the emergency point.
"Why haven't we been putting money away all along?" he asked.
Before last month, the building's air quality had not been tested since 1998, said Police Chief David Scott.
"Unless it's broken, we don't fix it," he said.
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