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Kari Lucin, Forum Communications, Published June 04 2012

Historic Stutsman County Courthouse may pose environmental hazards for new addition

JAMESTOWN, N.D. - Connections between the historic Stutsman County Courthouse and the new Stutsman County Courthouse may become an environmental hazard to county employees, building inspections in December and January have revealed.

In addition, old wiring and a wealth of combustible materials present multiple life and safety concerns, according to the Jamestown Fire Department.

In January, Stutsman County officials requested a meeting with the State Historical Society of North Dakota to discuss the problems with the building. In return, the SHSND sent Stutsman County a list of tasks it will complete related to the courthouse, along with tentative completion times, but the list also warned that “all items depend on budget constraints.”

“I think that learning more about the environmental conditions is one of the higher priorities, that’s what we need to know,” said Tom Linn, architectural project manager with the SHSND, during a recent tour of the building.

When more information about air quality and the amount of lead and asbestos is available, the Historical Society will be able to get cost estimates for fixing the problems.

The old courthouse connects with the new courthouse in four ways, which could eventually pose air quality problems for the people in the new courthouse.

Foremost is the wall built on the main floor between the two buildings. It was meant to seal the old building off, but it has a hole in it.

Even without the hole, the wall wouldn’t have been enough to prevent potential air quality problems, though, because it was not built well enough, said Casey Bradley, Stutsman County chief operating officer/auditor.

“Our intent is to replace that framed wall with a concrete masonry wall this summer,” Linn said.

The wall between the two buildings in the basement is also not up to the task, Bradley said, but the one on the second floor is fine.

A third point of connection between the two buildings is an old crawlspace, which is locked, but not sealed off.

Finally, there are some small conduits still connecting the two buildings.

“The big issue in my point of view, it’s going to cost so much money to do anything at all with (the old courthouse), where’s the funding going to come from?” said Jim Fettig, courthouse maintenance engineer.

Sampling and assessment from Badlands Environmental Consultants and a walkthrough inspection by the Jamestown Fire Department revealed that deteriorating lead paint, possibly-fraying asbestos pipe lining and seven different mold species can be found in the historic Stutsman County Courthouse.

Four of the seven mold species detected with two surface swab samplings on Dec. 13 may produce potentially carcinogenic or poisonous mycotoxins. Some of the detected mold species are also allergenic.

“Based on our on-site observations and swab sample analysis results, the Site appears to have a mold/fungi problem, at the time of the assessment,” wrote Mark Emter, president of Badlands Environmental Consultants. “Access into the Site should be restricted to authorized personnel only. The Site should also be isolated from the adjoining County building.”

Filling the basement of the old courthouse with sand may be more cost-effective than other methods of remediating the mold, lead and asbestos issues, and it is given as a possibility on the Historical Society’s list of tasks.

“The reason that not much has been done with the interior (is that) practically, unless you know what the use of the building is going to be, you’re wasting your money,” said Barb Lang, part of the 1883 Courthouse Committee, which raised funds to fix the exterior of the building.

The main floor of the courthouse is in better shape than the basement, but some old wooden furniture still in the building may present a fire hazard.

“Whatever furniture is considered (for museum) collections will need to be identified and removed by museum staff,” says the Historical Society’s list of tasks to be performed.

More environmental testing will be likely be done on the old building this summer, Linn said, focusing on the air quality, lead-based paint and asbestos.

“We love this building. It’s unique, it’s wonderful, there’s a tremendous amount of history here,” Lang said.

The State Historical Society still hopes to restore and lease the structure at some point, provided it can get the money. There are no estimates of how much that could cost, but Linn guessed that with the use of mostly volunteer labor it could be $1 million.

Whether Stutsman County contributes would be, ultimately, up to its Board of Commissioners, Bradley said. Funds for maintaining the courthouse may be sent to the State Historical Society Foundation, P.O. Box 1976, Bismarck, ND, 58502. For more information, call 701-328-2666.