E-Mail Forum
Closure Of Richmond's Main Library To Abate Mold
February 26, 2001

I'm writing to complain about the frequency with which city services seem to close their doors. The latest instance is the main library, which is closed as of today for a clean-up of mold spores. It seems to me that the library was just closed for some other remedial work, is it to suit the maintenance workers -it certainly does not seem to take account of the public's need. Similarly the city gym on MacDonald avenue is going to close for a week next week-for "down time", whatever that entails. These services were they privately run would not close their doors so frequently. Incidentally, the public notice in the newspaper said the library would close as of Monday, but true to form, it is closed today with the public milling around outside reading a notice on the door.  Tom, I'm sure there is nothing you can do about these instances now but somehow the city staff needs to be less cavalier about withholding the few services we have. 

I also received a memo from Assistant City Manager Leveron Bryant on February 23, 2001, advising me that an investigation of a reported mold problem in the main library "revealed considerable penetration in walls, crawl spaces and pipe tunnels. As a result, staff has taken immediate steps to close the main library building for the emergency abatement of fungi, to include some building repairs attributable to the problem." 

"Effective February 26, 2001, the main library building will be closed for an estimated two week period for abatement and repair work. The length of closure could be extended. During this period of closure, library staff will report to work at other branch libraries in Richmond."

"Staff will agenda for Council review on Tuesday, March 6, 2001, a current status report, estimate of cost, and other information, regarding abatement and repair work underway. Formal Council action will be required for any emergency appropriation, as may be necessary." 

The City retained ACC Environmental Consultants (http://www.accenv.com/) to conduct the investigation. Their preliminary conclusions were stated in a letter report dated February 22, 2001: 

* The source of water affecting the ground floor is probably due to damaged steam lines that allow water to infiltrate wall and ceiling cavities.

* The source of water affecting the second floor is probably due to broken windows and roof leaks.

* The elevated spore counts reported from the February 12, 2001, sampling event are probably due to the presence of suspect mold growth in areas beyond the abatement and treatment area.

* The presence of water from the damaged steam lines and from the window and roof leaks is the likely contributor to an environment that would support mold growth. 

The recommendations form ACC Environmental include the following: 

* Locate and repair all damaged sections of the steam lines. Ensure that all floor penetrations are appropriately sealed to prevent water from entering wall cavities.

* Locate and repair all roof leaks. Ensure that all roof penetrations are appropriately sealed to prevent water from entering the ceiling area.

* Repair or replace all broken windows.

* Conduct a comprehensive investigation of the Library to determine the extent of mold contamination. 

In addition, ACC Environmental recommended that the City take one of two responses to abate mold. The short term response would be less expensive initially and could return the library to use but could continue exposure to the public and employees and result in ultimately higher costs and expansion of the existing problem. The other alternative would involve a comprehensive investigation and abatement, resulting in higher immediate costs of an unknown magnitude and a longer closure period. 

Finally, the consultant noted that all of the Civic Center buildings are serviced by underground steam lines and there is a possibility that other buildings may have similar problems.

For an overview of mold problems in residential buildings, see an article I wrote at http://www.intres.com/MoldANDMildew.htm. 

It is interesting that a similar Main Library closure occurred in 1996 due to asbestos. A memo dated August 12, 1996, stated: 

"The Main Library was unexpectedly closed on May 14 when it was discovered that electrical construction work for the library's new on-line catalog was causing asbestos contamination of the staff area. The Public Works department immediately ordered the building closed to both the staff and the public. Construction work resumed after the work crew received special training ion working with asbestos. The work has now been completed." 

At the time, the City Council Economic Development, Community and Cultural Services Standing Committee held a hearing to determine why the asbestos contamination and abatement requirement was not anticipated when the electrical work was designed. It came to light that the plans and specifications for the electrical work were prepared without any one city staff person being in charge and taking a project overview that should have anticipated the need for asbestos mitigation. Four City staff members each in a different department, and a private consultant cobbled together the contract package, and it occurred to no one that asbestos in the 50-year old building would be a problem. Ultimately, the asbestos-related mitigation and abatement cost about $140,000 and extended the closure time by several weeks. 

For the asbestos project, Health Science Associates was retained to perform extensive testing for asbestos, including air sampling. Many of the same areas that are have now been identified as mold infested were extensively observed and tested for asbestos in 1996. Of particular note are the steam tunnels. At the time, Health Science Associates recommended that damaged pipes be repaired. This all raises significant questions about why the mold problem was not observed or discovered in 1996 and why the damaged pipes, which are now being cited as a cause of the mold, were not repaired as recommended. 

In 1996, the sole source contractor for asbestos abatement was F. Scott Industries of Richmond (510/233-0200), the same sole source contractor now being used for mold abatement. 

For five years, I have advocated for the City to implement a computerized facilities management program that includes a routinely updated database on all the City's buildings that includes the results of detailed inspections and documents the physical condition of each building and anticipates the need, cost and schedule of capital replacements and maintenance required to keep these buildings healthy and functional. This has never been done, but such a program could provide, in an orderly fashion, an opportunity to avoid the kind of emergency closures and expenditures represented by recent problems with the Library. I will be requesting that the City Council Public Safety and public Services Committee conduct hearing on the Library mold problem.