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Maine police station is unsafe for employees, police union says

The union has asked the town to provide an alternative work location free of hazards until all issues have been resolved


Ogunquit Police Department

By Gillian Graham
Portland Press Herald, Maine

OGUNQUIT, Maine — Black mold. Water pooling in the heating system. Broken asbestos tiles.

Those are the unsafe conditions Ogunquit’s police officers go to work in every day, according to a grievance presented to the town on their behalf that demands the town provide a better working environment.

The grievance from the union that represents Ogunquit Police Department employees was filed several days before voters rejected a town meeting warrant that would have allowed the town to develop plans to renovate or replace the Dunaway Community Center, which houses the police department, town offices and community space.

Now town leaders are trying to fix the most pressing problems while figuring out how to tackle the aging building’s deeper issues.

Article 53 on the town meeting warrant would have allocated up to $875,000 to look at various options for renovating or replacing the Dunaway Center, built in 1974, and the adjacent Ogunquit Village School, which closed in 2004. But voters on June 14 rejected the article by a vote of 305-263.

Town Manager Matthew Buttrick said staff have been working with public works and the cleanup company Servpro to remediate mold growth in the basement level of the Dunaway Center, where the police department is located. But he said tests done in recent years indicate the air quality has been safe for employees.

“We need to look long term at how we’re going to address mold growth in the basement of the Dunaway Center,” Buttrick said. “For right now, I’m confident there is no immediate threat to their health and safety.”

If conditions are found to be unsafe in the future, Buttrick said, employees will be moved to a different location.

In the grievance filed in the first week of June by Teamsters Local 340, the union says Ogunquit violated both an agreement that the town provide a safe working environment and OSHA standards that places of employment be free from recognized hazards.

The grievance describes black mold in several areas and disturbed tiles containing asbestos throughout the building. The HVAC system has been found to be defective, with water pooling in the system and ducts, and its filters, on a recent check, were waterlogged and black, according to the grievance.

“The physical condition of the Ogunquit Police Department facility is a safety hazard, contrary to the best interest of all employees who work in the building,” the grievance says.

The grievance also notes that a member of the Ogunquit Select Board expressed concern at a recent meeting about the building’s structural integrity.

The union asked the town to investigate, identify and remove all hazardous material in the building and ensure the HVAC equipment be in “good working order and have appropriate filtration to ensure acceptable air quality.” It also requested the air quality be tested after repairs are made and that the building be evaluated to determine its structural integrity.

The grievance also asks the town to provide an alternative work location free of hazards until all issues have been resolved. The police department is made up of 11 full-time officers, two administrative employees and 10 to 15 part-time summer reserve and community officers.

Members of the police department referred questions about the grievance to a business agent representing the union, but the agent did not respond to repeated requests to speak about the issues outlined in the grievance or about the town’s response.

The town’s Facilities and Space Needs Committee has spent the past year considering the condition of the Dunaway Center and the school for their future use. A campus feasibility assessment released in March as part of that effort recommended two new HVAC systems in the Dunaway Center. A structural analysis of the building determined that it was unlikely to meet modern requirements for an essential facility.

A hazardous materials report released in March said testing shows asbestos was detected in floor tiles, joint compound and vent caulking. Those materials would need to be properly removed if the building is renovated, according to the report.

Buttrick said the town is in the early stages of figuring out what to do next. Town staff and professional cleaners are removing mold so that it does not become airborne and are evaluating options to keep water from entering the basement.

The Facilities and Space Needs Committee will meet Monday to discuss whether to focus future work on the police department or on both buildings.

During a Select Board meeting Tuesday night, board members and representatives of the committee voiced their disappointment with the June 14 vote. Select Board member Heath Ouellette said the problems with the HVAC system that lead to mold in the building could have been addressed if the article had passed.

“There’s still work to be done,” said Mary Anne O’Connor Rush, chair of the Facilities and Space Needs Committee. “Remediation and renovation of town structures is more crucial now than ever.”

Select Board Chairman Robert Whitelaw echoed the disappointment and said the town will continue to look for ways to move forward.

“Someday there will be a better building here,” he said.

(c)2022 the Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine)