Library reopens after black mold scare

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By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers

RIVERVIEW – The city’s library reopened Jan. 16 after a month-long closure to remove black mold from a wall adjacent to the men’s restroom and the nearby lobbies.

The building was closed Dec. 14 after a Department of Public Works worker was scraping a wall during the painting process and uncovered the mold.
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The book and media area was not affected, library Director Kirk Borger said.

“It wasn’t out in the stacks or anything like that,” he said. “This library’s fairly dry – there’s not a whole lot of moisture.”

The library is at 14300 Sibley Road in Young Patriots Park, behind the reflection pond. It offers a variety of programs, from computer classes to story times. A federal funding recipient, its programs are open to all citizens, not just city residents.

“This is a relatively new building,” Borger said. “It’s 12 years old, and this is something that I never would have thought. It was just an accident that the DPW just happened to be painting and they scraped some paint away and they just found it, so it was a surprise.

“We did err on the side of caution. Our contractor was very cautious in that he wanted the mold count to be at a very, very low level before we could open, so we followed his recommendations, and that’s why we were closed for a month.”

The cause of the black mold remains unknown.

“It could be a combination of factors,” Borger said. “The contractor thinks it might be the spring thaw water coming up, maybe through the foundation, but of course we won’t know that until the spring. It may be a combination of factors.

“You can tell that it’s been there a while because the structural metal framework had rusted, so that lets you know that it had been there not for a long time, but within the last two to three years.”

A mason, roofer and concrete expert were consulted to try to determine the cause of the mold and how to prevent its reoccurrence.

The drywall was out for about two weeks, Borger said, adding that air scrubbers and other purifying devices, but that no water came in during that time. He said the problems could range from foundation water coming up during the spring thaw to toilet overflows.

“It could be something that we just couldn’t even see,” Borger said. “They even came in with thermal imaging cameras and moisture readers and all types of high-tech stuff, and they had a hard time pinpointing it – in fact they couldn’t pinpoint it at all.”

The contractor will inspect the library quarterly and will perform moisture readings. Thermal imaging cameras also will be utilized during the quarterly inspections.

Borger said that toilet overflows caused by vandalism might have been a factor in the equation. He has had to clean up messes caused by toilet paper rolls stuffed toilets and paper towels in sinks, then turning on the faucets and letting them run.

Officials will have to decide if that in fact caused the mold, and how it can be prevented from happening again, Borger said.

“It may be putting a lock on the door and people having to ask for a key,” he said. Other options include getting rid of all paper products in bathrooms except for toilet paper and replacing paper towels with an air dryer.

Staff members were off for two weeks because of the problem, and returned to work on projects after the mold was removed. The problem was primarily contained in the men’s restroom and lobby area, not in the stacks.

“We did inventories,” Borger said. “My staff worked on a lot of projects. A lot of my time was dealing with contractors and that kind of thing. That took a lot of time.”

Despite having asthma, Borger believes he never was at any risk during the cleanup process, and that much of the perception about black mold has been worsened by unsubstantiated theories that have received media attention in the past.

“You get exposed to black mold mowing your lawn,” he said. “The thing we have to worry about is someone who does have a respiratory problem or someone whose immune system is already compromised – they’re going through chemotherapy or something like that. Those are the people that we had to worry about.”

There are no federal guidelines for healthy adults’ exposure to black mold, Borger said, so officials must rely on contractors’ expertise and opinions.

Borger is happy to be offering story times, computer classes and English as a second language programs again. Many teens use the computers, and their young adult programs are popular as well.

“I’m just glad we’re open,” he said. “Two weeks of being closed without the public was kind of a novelty at first, and then after that it just turned into a pain.

“I like dealing with the public, and libraries are meant to be open, so after we had to delay it two times I was getting very frustrated. But again, we had to rely on the expertise of the contractor.”

The library will continue its outreach programs to ethnic groups in the surrounding communities, some of which are funded through federal grants.

Grant-funded computer classes conducted in Spanish will be held on Fridays.

“That class is already full,” Borger said. “We have 18 people signed up for it.”

Albanian programs, including one held Saturday, also are well attended.

Additional class time and program information can be found at RiverviewPublicLibrary.com.
IMG_9489web< “I am very happy,” Borger said. “(For a) small library, we have a lot of programs, and the public seems to respond in kind.”

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