BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – An air quality investigation conducted at the request of the Lee County Board of Supervisors and Lee County Health Department Director Julie Schilling was released Monday and shows no problem areas, according to EMC Insurance of Des Moines, the county’s property insurance company.
The LCHD moved from the location in April under an air quality concern at the department’s former location at 2218 Avenue H. The department has been housed at the North Lee County Office building since the end of April. No one from the LCHD or the county has elaborated on what the concern was until the report was issued Monday.
The Pen City Current issued a Freedom of Information Act request to the Lee County Attorney’s office on June 7. Lee County Attorney Clinton Boddicker and Asst. County Attorney Ross Braden had previously indicated the report would be kept confidential under Chapter 22 of the Iowa code as well as possible litigation.
The report is a summary of a mold investigation conducted on April 24. The report has several redactions but indicates the investigation was done at the request of Lee County Auditor Denise Fraise and Lee County Health Department Director Julie Schilling. The report was completed on May 3.
EMC uses a benchmark of 900 spores per cubic meter for indoor spore concentration. However, no outdoor concentration benchmark was indicated. EMC also uses indoor air quality benchmarks, including temperature ranges from 68 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity under 50%. During the investigation, the temperature was 66 degrees in the sampled areas and the humidity was 48%, all within guidelines.
According to the report, mold spore samples were collected in areas of the lower level’s east side, including the waiting room, office area, small storage room, as well as an outdoor sample for comparison purposes.
With the exception of an outdoor Basidiospores concentration of 910, attributable to rainfall prior to the investigation, all other samples were well below the 900 benchmark with the highest indoor concentration being a 270 spores/cubic meter of penicillium.
“Our concern was that we didn’t know what those numbers were when we were told to leave the building,” Schilling said.
Schilling has said the investigation was launched out of concern for the safety of the employees and staff of LCHD. The Health Department inked a 3-year deal with the Iowa Department of Corrections late last week to lease the 4-story former John Bennett Administration building at $7,000/month. Their current lease was $5,400/month but didn’t include utilities or maintenance, which the DOC agreement does. When asked if the LCHD had considered moving back into the former location, Schilling said the department would not be making any additional comments on the issue.
“Now we are moving into the John Bennett Unit. We had been looking for a long time for a new building to move into so that’s where we’re going.”
Lee County Auditor Denise Fraise said she contacted the insurance company on direction from the Lee County Board of Supervisors. She also said there was no cost to the county for the investigation as it was a covered policy investigation.
The LCHD had been leasing space in the building currently occupied by The Kensington, a senior assisted living center in Fort Madison. The Kensington is owned by AgeMark, headquartered in California, a company that owns senior assisted communities across the United States.
Rachel Benda, the Director at The Kensington, said AgeMark is looking at the request from Lee County to settle the current lease agreement. As is stands, the LCHD is looking at paying rent to both IDOC and Agemark for six months until the current lease with AgeMark expires due to notification of the move by LCHD.
The Kensington also had Klingner and Associates of Burlington review the report. In a letter to The Kensington, Klingner agreed the investigation was done properly and the results were indicative of a normal indoor air environment.
“I did receive the letter from Ross Braden about a settlement for breaking the lease and have also seen the mold investigation report from EMC Insurance. I’ve reviewed both with Marty Hug, COO of our management company, Agemark. With so many factors to consider, we may also seek legal counsel,” said Kensington Director Rachel Benda in a statement Friday.
“Once the summary report from EMC Insurance is released, you’ll see that Lee County Health Department’s assertion that it was “forced” to move because of an air quality issue is unsubstantiated. For the past 30 years, The Kensington and Lee County Health Department maintained an excellent landlord/tenant relationship. Despite the circumstances surrounding the current situation, integrity and professionalism are two of our corporate values and we promise to do what is right for everyone concerned.”
In an email Monday, Benda said AgeMark and The Kensington wished the department the best going forward.
“We wish that the Lee County Health Department wouldn’t have vacated because we don’t think they needed to. However we wish them well in their new place of business.”