Was decision to evacuate Scituate Police station necessary?

Was decision to evacuate Scituate Police station necessary?

A long simmering debate in town has finally come to a head with the Town Council’s recent decision to evacuate the Scituate Police station. While the need for a new police station has been the subject of debate for several years, recently completed structural and environmental reviews of the current facility would suggest that the time has come to have a serious and conclusive discussion of the merits of constructing a new police station. As I stated in my letter in August, I agree that we should consider the need for a new police station. My support for addressing the issues at the current police station increased meaningfully after learning of the risks to the health, safety and welfare of the members of our Police Department and anyone else spending time at the station. That said, the recent actions taken by the Town Council are concerning and have exposed the citizens of Scituate to tens of thousands of unnecessary expenditures and potential legal actions, as has been routinely mentioned in public by members of the Town Council majority. While we may end up with a new police station; it’s the means to the end that concern me.
Leadership of the Town Council held a Special Town Council meeting on Sept. 14 where they presented the results of several structural and environmental reviews conducted at the Scituate Police station. There was (and continues to be) a clear emphasis on the serious health hazards facing anyone in the building from exposures to high levels of mold. While the reports also highlighted the existence of building materials containing asbestos, the consultants made no mention of the exposure being a current health risk for building occupants or visitors. Furthermore, there was no mention in the reports of any air quality testing for asbestos levels, which would suggest that there was no serious concern regarding asbestos exposures. Finally, the reports do address lead paint on the exterior of the building as well as a faulty existing radon remediation system, both of which can be remedied without vacating the building. In fact, the radon levels were noted as being at safe levels (per federal standards). The crux of the decision to vacate the building certainly appears to have rested on excessive mold, primarily in the basement of this historic building. This is further supported by the fact that the letter from the police union made no mention of environmental concerns beyond that of mold levels in the building and possible high levels of radon. Finally, John Carbone of VORTEX clearly stated in his presentation that “mold is the priority." In the end, the underlying question is whether, or not, these conditions compromise the health and well-being of building occupants and visitors to the extent that the building needed to be evacuated.
Notwithstanding several obvious unanswered questions, the current Scituate Town Council, led by the “Independent Men” in the majority decided to vacate the existing police station over structural and environmental concerns. On several occasions during and after the Sept. 14 meeting, our Town Council leadership has expressed profound concern over the safety and welfare of personnel working at the station as well as citizens visiting the facility. Additionally, several members of the Town Council majority have also suggested on multiple occasions that the conditions in the building expose the town to significant lawsuits. The conditions as presented at the meeting were alarming and warranted more research and investigation.
Now, I’m not going to represent that I have in-depth knowledge in the environmental and/or remediation business, which is why I decided to contact several companies in the industry in order to obtain an independent, professional and objective opinion as the severity of the situation at our Police Department building. They had some reassuring observations after a review of the reports provided to the Town Council. For starters, nothing in any of the reports suggests that the air quality in the primary workspace is compromised to an extent that necessitates closing the station. In fact, the first page of the report from OHI clearly states that: “There is no evidence of water damage, no visible mold growth and no olfactory evidence of mold in any of the first floor rooms” (where almost all of the daily activity occurs). Clearly there’s an issue in the basement but use of this space is limited and is certainly off limits to the general public. Yes, there are some air circulation issues with the heating and air conditioning systems being located in the basement but the professionals have told me that these are relatively easily remediated with some basic mechanical repairs. They also noted that there is no evidence in the reports to suggest that the asbestos at the site poses an immediate threat to the safety and health of our employees or the public. As previously mentioned, they sited that there was no mention of asbestos-related air quality test having been completed. Finally, it’s worth reiterating that there was no mention in any of the reports that the air quality in the primary workspace is compromised or dangerous and there was no suggestion in the reports that the building needed to be evacuated.
So now we’re back to the mold issue. Each of the industry professionals I spoke to suggested that there are three common themes related to mold: 1) there are no strict standards on acceptable mold levels in a building, 2) testing should be conducted under varied weather conditions as mold counts can be influenced by recent rains, humidity levels and general seasonality (note that the testing in Scituate was completed in the notoriously humid summer months) and 3) excess mold levels almost never pose a threat to the extent that a building has to be vacated. I have been told that there are several techniques for handling mold issues and almost all involve minimal disruption in the adjacent spaces.
So where do we go from here? We could remediate the structural and environmental issues and move back into the police station. After all, the building is in a historical district and will likely have to be cleaned up regardless of its long-term use. But that’s not a permanent solution. We clearly need to have a discussion on the need for a new police station for the benefit of the dedicated members of our police department and the citizens of Scituate. As I’ve stated in the past, a project like this should be undertaken in a methodical, well thought-out and responsible manner, not with the sense of panic and alarm as is currently being portrayed by our Town Council leadership. Decisions made with a sense of urgency and crisis often end up leading to costly mistakes. Now some of the pushback on this approach will, no doubt, come from a legitimate concern that our Police Department personnel are currently operating out of temporary facilities, including a trailer located next to the now vacant old police station. This is truly unfortunate, unacceptable and disappointing because it didn’t have to go this way.
Experts in the field have told me that the structural and environmental issues at the station could have been dealt with in a less obtrusive and disruptive manner than we’ve been subjected to in Scituate. But thanks to the overreaction and overreach of our Town Council leadership, an atmosphere of panic, crisis and chaos have engulfed our town government with the members of our Police Department and the citizens of Scituate now paying a significant price. The actions of our Town Council leadership will cost us tens of thousand of precious tax dollars while at the same time unnecessarily exposing our town to potential lawsuits.
Going forward, we should strongly encourage the leadership of our Town Council to consider all the alternatives including an in-depth analysis of the cost of remediation of the existing facility. The possibility that the building could be temporarily re-occupied would buy us some time, which could then be used to conduct a comprehensive review of all the long-term needs, location options and alternatives for a new police station without feeling like our collective backs are up against the wall. The citizens of Scituate would be best served with a thoughtful and measured approach to a project that will serve generations to come. Let’s take a step back and work together to achieve the best possible solution for our community.
Tim McCormick
Scituate