Mold outbreak closing Hyde County safety center
Published 5:34 am Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Problem prompts workers to file health claims
By TED STRONG and DOUG GIBBS
The Hyde County Public Safety Center will soon be empty again, as county officials shift operations elsewhere because of a mold infestation.
The mold has led to workers’ compensation claims against the county, but no prisoners were exposed because the county hasn’t yet managed to open the jail section of the building, said Hyde County Sheriff David T. Mason Sr.
The center has housed the sheriff’s department since late 2007, along with other public-service related departments. Though construction is complete, the jail has never been opened because the county realized it couldn’t pay for the staff necessary to run the jail. For now, Hyde County prisoners are scattered in facilities from Currituck County to Raleigh.
Sheriff’s deputies are the last employees in the jail. They will shift operations to a single-wide manufactured building in the center’s parking lot as soon as power and telephone lines are installed, Mason said. Dispatchers have already started working out of a mobile command post in the parking lot.
It’s not yet clear how much the mold will cost the county, or if the building is still under warranty, County Manager Carl Classen said. The county will immediately work to fix the problem, then try to determine who should cover cost of repair and cleaning work, he said. The best-case scenario is that the building will be ready to reopen in four or five weeks, Classen said.
Most of the mold, which is growing on the building’s walls, is in the jail itself, Mason said. Some of it is also in the dispatchers’ area, he said. The mold was growing on the wood that is being used to hold communication equipment on the wall.
The county received its final report from an independent mechanical engineer on Friday, and Classen forwarded that report to the contractor and a sub-contractor who built the jail, he said.
Deficiencies in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system and a lack of insulation around doors are among the many potential causes that have been identified, Classen said.
Hyde County has also hired an expert to write a contract for cleaning up the mold and testing to verify that it’s gone, Classen said. The county hopes to solicit bids on the contract soon, he said.
Mason said that, on the whole, the Public Safety Center is working out well.
Once the mold is dealt with, the county will go back to looking for ways the county can afford to put prisoners in the 32-bed jail, Classen said.
Counties housing prisoners off-site pay a per-diem fee per prisoner to the host facility. Taking in such borders could help Hyde County afford to keep its own prisoners at home.
Surrounding county and federal facilities may not have enough demand for overflow space for young, male prisoners to make running Hyde County’s jail cost effective, but Classen thinks there could be enough demand for the housing of speciality prisoners such as women, juvenile or geriatric prisoners.
Beaufort County Manager Paul Spruill said Beaufort County might house some overflow inmates in Hyde County if rates were competitive “as we run the final distance of our own marathon to build a new facility.” Beaufort County’s need for overflow space is sporadic, though, so it doesn’t represent a solution for Hyde County by itself, Spruill said.
He said. “When we find ourselves in tight circumstances, we have used and will continue to use Pamlico County as an alternative, and we’d be happy to consider using Hyde or anyone else, provided that the rate was competitive and the distance made sense.”