PEPPERELL -- Residents voted 83-31 at a Special Town Meeting Monday to appropriate $150,000 for mold remediation for the town's public-safety complex.
Combined with another $60,000 that was transferred from the Finance Committee's reserve account last month, the money will pay to clean up mold and replace the HVAC system in the building that houses the police, fire and communications departments.
"It's a safety issue that we have to make plans for," said Selectmen Chairman Stephen Themelis.
Town Administrator John Moak said the mold problem is partially a result of years of cutting maintenance budgets as the town tried to navigate through tough financial times.
"It's basically deferred maintenance that has happened over a decade that has let pipes sweat, and get into the wall board and things of that nature," Moak said. "That's part of the budgets that were cut back over the years."
Moak said the estimates for the project range from $180,000 to $210,000, but the town was asking for the higher amount to prevent a shortfall later.
"We can't come back to you if we're short, we need to keep going with the project. Hopefully it won't run that high," Moak said.
Although resident Phil Durno said the town should appropriate more than $150,000 in case costs rise once the project gets under way, Town Moderator Scott Blackburn said the amount of the appropriation couldn't be raised at Town Meeting.
Some residents raised concerns the mold remediation is an expensive but temporary fix for a building that is going to need major repairs.
Resident Justin Zink said the town should either completely renovate the public-safety complex or find the departments a new, permanent home.
"We need a permanent solution that will work for years to come. To do that we need a study done ASAP," Zink said.
Working out of trailers while the work is done, Zink said, will hurt the departments' reputation and pose problems for recruitment.
Zink also raised concerns that the remediation plan does not provide for any fresh air intake into the building, part of the reason the mold developed.
"This $150,000, in my opinion, is a Band-Aid. This building will need tens of thousands in the coming years. We need to do it right the first time," Zink said. His comments were greeted by applause.
Selectmen said the problem needed to be dealt with quickly.
"We do have to make this fix now so we can go forward. There's just no way around it," Selectman Michael Green said.
Themelis said the first priority was getting the town's police officers, firefighters and dispatchers back to work quickly in a safe environment.
"I agree that we need to solve the problem on a bigger scale, but we can't do that at this specific time," Themelis said.
The mold-remediation work is scheduled to start in about two weeks, Moak said. During the three to five months of repairs, the Police Department will work out of trailers in the complex's parking lot, while the Fire Department will be relocated to the Park Street station.
The Communications Department's section of the building will be cleaned first so that they can be moved back into the building quickly, avoiding the need to relocate a 911 line, Moak said.
Moak said the town looked into relocating employees into other buildings, including the former Peter Fitzpatrick School, but that proximity to the public-safety complex reduced moving costs and made accessing ammunition and evidence storage more practical.
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