Old and Moldy

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By John Deming, Atlantic News Staff Writer

Atlantic News, Friday, January 7, 2005

[The following article is courtesy of Atlantic News]

SEACOAST -- Too much mold, too many fleas, too much inhaling and exhaling.

Numerous municipal buildings across the region have grown musty, confined and uninhabitable, forcing district courts in both Hampton and Exeter to be moved and leading to health problems for employees in both towns.

NH Supreme Court Justice John Broderick toured more than 50 courts in the state, deeming those in Exeter and Hampton unfit for town employees.

According to Paul Cuetara, a home and building inspector in North Hampton, many buildings constructed over the last 100 years or so did not properly account for ventilation.

In Exeter, the problem is carbon dioxide.

The problem was the result of having too many people in a confined space with no fresh air coming in and no ventilation system, Exeter Town Manager George Olson has said.

To a lesser extent, Exeter's town offices are facing the same type of air quality problem. According to Olson, air exchangers — similar to air conditioners — have been installed in areas that recorded high levels of carbon dioxide, at a cost of $1,500.

Such a solution was not viable for the district courthouse, because in that building, air exchangers would have hit a total of $40,000, which the town didn't have to spend, Olson has said.

In Hampton, district court employees have complained of flea bites. The building itself is not handicapped accessible, and the fire escape is not up-to-code. There have also been complaints of sickness due to mold.

The Hampton police department, which moved into a brand new facility at the end of December, had been an inadequate building for 40 years. The building has very tight hallways and small offices, some of which don't have windows.

"People have gotten sick and gotten sinus infections because of the mold," according to Hampton Police Chief Bill Wrenn.

Cuetara said that such problems are not exclusive to municipal buildings.

"I have very rarely seen houses and buildings that I consider to be adequately ventilated," he said, "except buildings built in the last four or five years."

According to Cuetara, many buildings were constructed in the last 100 years or so with a philosophy that small and tight construction would cut down on heating costs.

"The old philosophy was 'make it tight' — it's a way to cut costs," he said. "But you need to ventilate, ventilate, ventilate."

Cuetara said that old farmers in Maine used to open all the windows in their houses every couple of days during the winter to ventilate, a practice that didn't find its way into the 20th century.

"That's the best thing that you can do — it freshens the house," said Cuetara. "It helps the house to work, it gets the germs out."

Cuetara noted that in New England, a very humid and moist region, mold spores are everywhere. A lot of people in homes or businesses shut all the windows and doors, especially during winter, Cuetara added.

"If you want to guarantee mold carrying through the air, do that," he said.

Nonetheless, mold is a fact of life in New England, according to Cuetara.

"I've had people call me up and say they want a guarantee that there is not mold or mildew in their house," he said. "I say I can guarantee that there is mold or mildew."

Hampton Town Manager James Barrington agreed that ventilation is a big problem in a lot of old buildings.

"Eighty years ago, ventilation was opening the windows," Barrington said, noting that in a new facility ventilation will taken into account.

In some buildings, he noted — especially the Hampton courthouse — the problems extend further than ventilation problems.

"That court building is really not adequate," he said. "It doesn't even have proper access."

Operations at Exeter District Court have been moved to Rockingham County Superior Court, while a temporary location is still being sought for the Hampton's District Court. Both Seabrook and Hampton have offered locations for the court.

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