Suwannee Democrat

Local News

February 15, 2013

Preserving history

Clerk of Court and county historian work to remove mold from historic documents following TS Debby damage

Live Oak — Tropical Storm Debby left Clerk of the Circuit Court Barry Baker with the task of restoring court documents that were impacted by mold and could cost up to $100,000 to repair them.

On Tuesday, June 26, as Debby was pouring down rain, water was also making its way into the basement at the Suwannee County Courthouse where historic records are kept due to several leaks in the building. Very early Thursday morning, officials discovered a sinkhole within feet of the courthouse.

“This area was flooded, and within a 24 hours period, the water was gone,” said Baker. “We knew that water had to be going somewhere.”

County Historian Eric Musgrove said that while they were trying to care for the courthouse documents, the sinkhole was growing at a rapid rate.

“The sinkhole continued growing,” he said. “We would go out there and mark where the cracks were in the sidewalk. Every hour, we could see the cracks extending beyond the markers, so we knew it was growing.”

In an effort to preserve the documents, Baker and Musgrove used shop vacuums and carpet cleaners to remove as much of the water as possible. Even though there was minimum flooding and only in certain spots, it was enough to cause severe damage.

As a result of the sinkhole continuing to grow, the power to the courthouse was shut off and the team was forced to move. Some of the staff operated from the Live Oak Library and some were stationed at the Courthouse Annex building.

“Thankfully, we had a lot of help getting the essential stuff moved. The office staff, the National Guard, Department of Corrections, Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Forestry were there to help. We had to do that with no power in the building, so it was very hot. It was a fun day,” Musgrove laughed.

On Friday, the courthouse was shut down and Baker was notified that mold was found in the building.

“It was hot and damp, and the combination of the building leaking and not having electricity brought on the mold,” Baker said.

By Saturday, the team had everything set to go so court could proceed on Monday morning. However, that’s when Baker was notified there was contamination on the records.

“We called in an industrial hygienist to observe the situation,” he said. “The first quote we were given to clean the documents without any tests being ran was $1 million.”

After further discussion, the school board put Baker in contact with another hygienist who became a great help to Baker and the team.

“He told us what we could clean them, and he told us which records had issues and would need further cleaning. Now, the issue has been narrowing down the scope of the work,” said Baker. “After partnering with the hygienist, he tested all areas affected and determined which types of mold were on the documents and where.”

According to the hygienist, the records could be cleaned for a lot less than $100,000.

“The records were not able to be covered by FEMA, the state of Florida or our insurance,” Baker said. “Everyone I have spoken to regarding this matter have all said it’s the county’s responsibility.”

At a recent Suwannee County Commission meeting, Baker presented the problem to the commissioners. The commissioners granted him permission to utilize unused funds from last year and this year’s budget to address the issues.

“Having our employees work where mold was present was a serious health hazard and due to the liability, we are storing the records at a different location until they can be cleaned and certified,” Baker said.

The contaminated records are currently being housed in a storage facility that is temperature controlled until they can be treated. Records that are currently in the courthouse have been cleaned and certified. As records are cleaned and approved, they will be moved back into the courthouse.

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