PEPPERELL — The town is facing the possibility of spending about $150,000 to rid the public-safety complex of mold.
Selectmen approved Town Administrator John Moak’s request Monday to move $60,000 from the Finance Committee’s reserve account to pay for a report from an engineering firm to determine the best course of action, as well as partial replacement of the HVAC system.
After that point, the town would need to pay for disposal of the old HVAC units, clean the building and replace the carpets. Money for this would need to be appropriated through a Special Town Meeting.
Mold was discovered last month in the first floor and basement of the complex, which houses the town’s police, fire and communications departments.
While town officials sought opinions on the extent of the problem, employees have continued to work in the offices.
So far, three or four employees have reported health symptoms that could be a result of the mold, said Police Chief David Scott.
“We have to wonder what cost to the town that could be also,” Selectman Michelle Gallagher said.
As of now, there is no plan to move employees out of the building while the work is done, and no funding to do so, but Moak said he would continue looking into options for relocation.
“Moving the Police Department and Fire Department was a major project, but could be done. Moving the Communications Department is extremely costly and probably a long leap time to get the 911 lines set up, unless we use a trailer in the parking lot,” he said.
Resident Ken Lundstrom said that the town should not be exposing its employees to mold.
“I don’t understand why we’re” exposing “these people… The fix is fine, but what are we going to do until then?” Lundstrom asked.
After inspections from both the state and a private firm, the town has been advised of about three different options for replacing the HVAC system, but is seeking the guidance of an engineering firm before choosing the best path.
“We don’t feel we can decide from those options, so we’ve been starting to contact mechanical engineering firms for estimates and to see if they can get it done quickly,” Moak said.
To secure the rest of the funding, selectmen voted to hold a Special Town Meeting on Feb. 3, in order to complete the project as quickly as possible.
“The town residents and taxpayers need to know what’s going on, and there’s no better way to do it then through Town Meeting,” Selectmen Chairman Stephen Themelis said.
According to Moak, the major repairs now come as a result of years of cutting corners on maintenance as departments have been forced to trim budgets.
“I don’t like this number, but this number is from years of neglect,” Moak said.
The neglect doesn’t stop at the mold, however. Moak said that the entire building is in need of an overhaul.
“We also need to be cognizant when looking at solutions that much more work needs to be done to this building,” Moak said.
Either a complete renovation or relocation would have to be considered within the next few years, he said.
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