Durham, NC – The move took place in early March and affected 59 officers plus additional administrative personnel. They have been split between the District 2 station at Northgate Mall and Police Department headquarters at 505 W. Chapel Hill St.
“We just had to cram ’em in into what we had,” said Jesse Burwell, the Police Department’s administrative bureau chief. “But this isn’t affecting service to the folk at District 1. Calls are still being answered appropriately as they should.”
The station was used for officer assemblies at the start of shifts and also served as a place for police to fill out paperwork and meet with the public. Employees at the facility, in the Joyland Shopping Center between U.S. 70 and Junction Road, had complained of a strong musty odor throughout the offices and common areas, and mold was visible on interior walls and ceiling tiles.
The landlord, M.M. Fowler Inc., was notified of the mold and a possible leak on Feb. 27. A roofer found black mold. A Fowler representative later told police his company had not been informed of the problem by the roofer.
After complaints continued, a Charlotte environmental consultant was hired to evaluate the situation. The consultant confirmed the presence of mold and a musty smell, later confirmed by testing.
The draft report by that consultant, the Environmental Group of the Carolinas, was delivered to the city on March 7. That day, the consultant was hired to remove city property from the station.
City employees who had worked in the building for any length of time and were having health problems were told to get an evaluation. Attempts to clean the facility were unsuccessful, according to Burwell. An initial effort lowered the contaminant count, but levels rose afterward, “so we’re pretty sure that [the landlord] didn’t do anything” to address the problem.
Attempts to reach M.M. Fowler Wednesday were not successful.
Contracts with the environmental firm and move-out expenses have cost the city $50,000. The Police Department found the money by taking it from various parts of its budget, according to the administrative chief.
The city had leased the space, roughly 6,500 square feet, for more than seven years, Burwell said. The cost was about $82,000 annually. “We broke the lease,” Burwell said. “We’re not going back there. Right now we’re negotiating with the landlord on what he feels that we owe.”
Besides the recent contamination issue, the facility failed to meet city specifications because it was not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to the Burwell. “There were some renovations that the landlord was supposed to have done and never did follow through,” he said.
Burwell and the city attorney, Richard Weintraub, are negotiating with M.M. Fowler to see if the city will do any additional cleaning at the former station. Meanwhile, Burwell is also attempting to broker a lease for new space for the station. He declined to identify the site but said it could take one to two months to reach an agreement.
The lease would then go to the City Council for approval, after which the space would have to be prepared for departmental use. “If everything worked out OK, we could maybe be in another facility sometime after the first of the year,” Burwell said.
Police Chief Jose Lopez recently announced his desire to build a new police headquarters and two large precinct stations. He told the City Council that the police would benefit from occupying their own facilities.
Burwell seconded that notion Wednesday. “When we don’t own our own facilities, this is what we go through every time we have to move,” he said. “And you know, we deal with all kinds of landlord issues. And it’s expensive.”
Food Lion, the main tenant in the building where the District 1 station used to be located, was inspected for contamination around the time the police station was examined and no problems were found, company spokeswoman Karen Peterson said Wednesday. “We’re clean as a whistle,” an employee at the Holloway Street supermarket said.
Officials at the county health department and two state agencies responsible for environmental and safety oversight said Wednesday that they were not aware of any complaints or problems involving the supermarket.