Mold issues plagued former tenants of city staff offices

ServPro recently removed furniture from the city of Aitkin administration building on Minnesota Avenue due to mold concerns. City administration staff moved out of their remodeled office space and are looking at a number of other potential locations.

Before the city of Aitkin administration moved into its leased office space at 209 Minnesota Ave. in February, a previous tenant had reported mold and musty odors.

Now, as the result of unexpected expenses the city has incurred to mitigate the issues, the city of Aitkin is in litigation with Catlin Properties Inc., which owns the building.

Tim Catlin, a spokesperson for Catlin Properties, Inc. told the Age on Oct. 12 that he did not recall the exact time he learned about the mold problem.

The city has retained the law firm of Severson and Porter in an effort to recover expenses and lease fees for the space. The city is also asking to be released from its lease on the property.

HEALTH CONCERNS

The journal Environmental Health Perspectives stated in a 2007 review that accumulating evidence has shown that problems with mold can surface after just one or two days of moisture exposure.

Research shows that the same conditions that give rise to mold growth also support many bacteria. Many components and emissions from these fungi and bacteria are known or suspected to harm human health.

The city has sent a letter of demand to the property owner looking for compensation, and is waiting for a response. City Administrator Rose Beverly recently reported that $28,135.38 was spent on the build out of the space, $769 to move in, and $950 per month for 10 months to lease the space.

Beverly told the Aitkin Independent Age recently that she, council members and the mayor were not able to comment because of the litigation.

BUILDING HISTORY

Crosby Mattress owner, Doug Gillette, who had leased the space immediately prior to the city council leasing it Nov. 30, 2019, said he noticed a moldy smell in the building almost as soon as he moved in, in August 2018. He said found mold growing on top of the ceiling tiles.

Gillette said he thought the lack of insulation between the ceiling and a new roof that was installed shortly before he moved in caused condensation issues and the musty odor.

“I lost three mattresses that had condensation dripped on them,” Gillette said.

The roof was taken off, insulation put in and the roof replaced.  Some roof trusses that were rotted from moisture were also replaced, but the moldy ceiling tiles were not replaced, according to Gillette.

“I bought an ionizing unit to try to clean the air, which helped temporarily, but customers would mention that it smelled moldy when they came in,” Gillette said. “You can’t sell mattresses or linens that smell musty or moldy. This situation with mold and dampness had a lot to do with my moving out at the end of October 2019.”

The Beanery was located in the same space prior to Crosby Mattress, but the owners declined to comment about any issues they may have had prior to moving out.

In 2019, when the Aitkin City Council discussed appropriating money to clean and update the space for use by the city administrator’s staff, the subject of ceiling tile replacement came up. The city requested approval at its Jan. 6 regular city council meeting to spend additional money on the replacement of ceiling tiles.

“Once you get into a remodeling project, things are revealed that were not apparent previously. The ceiling tiles crumbled when the contractor started to install the office lighting, and some of the ceiling tile needs to be replaced,” said council member Leeann Moriarty.

The city approved two change orders to allow the additional money to be spent on replacing flooring and ceiling tiles, with council member Erin Wagner opposing. Wagner said that spending city money on permanent changes to a rental property concerned her. Wagner said it would have been better to know about all of this up front, before the choosing the 209 Minnesota Ave. location.

Moriarty responded that these were things the city did not foresee.

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