As Police Chief Neil Dryfe led a reporter through the police department’s headquarters last week, toward the building’s lower level the air grew noticeably muggy.
Dryfe walked past a few dehumidifiers, which had been located throughout the building.
“You can see from walking around there’s water spots, mold, this hallway in particular,” Dryfe said, pointing toward ceiling panels.
An early estimate projected the total cost to replace the building heating, ventilation and air conditioning system and to enlarge the women’s locker room would be much greater than originally projected.
After the Town Council had requested fast tracking the work, architecture firm Silver / Petrocelli and Associates this week floated two options — the first included replacing the HVAC system and the architectural improvements, one at a $875,000 cost and a second option at $1.5 million.
The first option would replace the HVAC system, but leave most of the existing ductwork. The second option calls for replacing all of the existing ductwork.
The town’s capital budget request, yet to be adopted, had put aside about $750,000 for the work in two separate phases. The first year had $75,000 budgeted for the HVAC work.
Town Council members expressed frustration, noting the same company that had conducted both studies. Rob Oris Jr., the council’s chairman, found that revelation problematic.
“I’m very frustrated by this. I’m very frustrated with this firm right now and I’m very frustrated with the process,” he said.
The need for the upgrades became apparent a year ago when officers were reporting mold accumulation and muggy conditions in their locker rooms.
One female officer found mold had accumulated on the vest she had left hanging in the locker room during the two days she had off. On another occasion boots that had been stored in the department’s evidence room were found covered with a ring of white mold.
Town officials attempted to address the conditions by installing dehumidifiers and hiring cleaners to sanitize the building.
Last August, Cheshire Police Union President Kevin Costa, sent Dryfe a memo requesting an air quality test. The test confirmed excessive mold and humidity in the air, but not at dangerous levels.
Dryfe noted a significant portion of the building’s lower level, including the locker rooms and gym area, is underground. The mold and humidity issues “really came to a head last summer when we had some hot and humid days,” he added.
Dryfe could request the town replace the rotting ceiling panels.
“Eighteen months from now, it’s going to be the same thing,” he said. “We’ll be replacing them again. It’s a larger issue than that. Sometimes when it’s really humid, this floor gets condensation to the point where it’s wet and it’s slippery — to the point where we drag out the caution wet floor signs.
The department’s female officers and other female staff have a crammed locker room and bathroom area. The men’s locker room is about four times larger. Both rooms could be expanded with lockers to accommodate the extra gear officers have to carry.
“There’s not enough room in lockers for people to hang their stuff so you got stuff hanging on walls here in what is essentially a bathroom — radio chargers and stuff, boots and things – sitting on one single shower stall, right here, next to the lockers,” Dryfe said.