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Mold Cleanup Begins at Vermont Statehouse

Published: 10/26/2018 12:00:14 AM
Modified: 10/26/2018 12:00:26 AM

Montpelier — As visitors to the Statehouse took photos or popped in to a journalism symposium on Wednesday, contractors moved in and out of sealed committee rooms to tackle the building’s mold problem.

The work in more than a dozen committee rooms contaminated with mold will cost about $500,000, according to Chris Cole, commissioner of the state Department of Buildings and General Services.

Cole said his department was alerted to the mold problem when a staff member noted that one of the committee rooms had excessive moisture — a precondition for mold. Last summer, mold had been discovered on documents and legal books in several of the rooms, Cole recalled.

Vermont’s iconic gold-domed Statehouse was built in 1859 — an era that predated heating and cooling systems in building design. Its HVAC system draws in air from the shaded courtyard behind the building, Cole said, sending “moisture-laden, chill” air into the building. Unlike most of the Statehouse, the House and Senate committee rooms are shut at the end of the legislative session, meaning there’s less air circulation.

“The Statehouse transitions from a functioning legislative building at the last gavel and turns into a tourist museum,” Cole said of the break between sessions.

Contractors performed more than 60 air quality tests in the building. Three Senate committee rooms on the first floor and House committee rooms on the third floor were found to have elevated mold levels, Cole said. The rest of the building was unaffected, he said.

Cleaning HVAC ducts to remove mold spores will be the biggest job, Cole said. He added that the HVAC system was overdue for a cleaning, so the mold expedited a needed maintenance task. A negative air pressure method will be used to drive the moist air, and mold spores, out of the rooms.

Cole said he visited the “worst” committee room recently to take stock of the situation.

“You could see where there was a piece of inexpensive framed art where the matting had rippled because of moisture,” he said. “But there was no visible black mold anywhere.”

The Statehouse underwent a 20-year renovation from the early 1980s to 2000s to restore the building to its 19th-century splendor. A portion of that work was undoing questionable remodeling choices, like drop ceilings installed in the 1970s, said Jack Zeilenga, assistant state curator.

The building’s “more important, more expensive” works of art were not in the rooms with mold problems, Zeilenga said, adding that conservators will restore 20-25 pieces of art that were damaged.

“We’re not overly concerned about long-term damage to any of it,” he added.

Some furniture and carpets will also need to be replaced, but none of the items were of historical value, Zeilenga said.

Cole said the cleanup work will be completed before the Legislature reconvenes in January. In the future, committee rooms will be kept warmer and may need to remain open during the summer to prevent future mold problems.

“Our weather in Vermont is changing — we have hotter and more humid days,” Cole said. “That’s a weather pattern change that is something we’re going to have to pay closer attention to.”

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