Fulton County Judge Charles Willett with the help of Darrell Zimmer, Fulton County Office of Emergency Services manager, launched an investigation into the mold problem that threatened to cost the county nearly half-a-million dollars to solve, resulting in new discoveries in restoration methods -- soap and water.
In a report from Lisa Licht with ABB Environmental Services, the mold was severe and the restoration process included full abatement involving wall and ceiling removal, with costs in the range of $150,000. "That cost is just removal. The cost to replace everything would be that or more," Willett said. The county received a report that said potentially dangerous black mold existed in the Fulton County Jail, the courtroom of the courthouse, as well as Willett's office.
With a, "better safe than sorry," attitude, Fulton County jail inmates were transferred to the Izard County Detention Center while the situation was being investigated.
Willett said the county could have lost up to 11 jobs due to housing inmates in Izard County, including jailers both full and part time. No inmates would mean zero need for jailers, Willett said.
Willett, already facing soaring fuel prices and a costly and extensive county-wide road project, said he was prepared to do what was financially necessary to combat the mold but decided to seek out alternative avenues of approach and a second opinion.
Wednesday, Willett and Zimmer spoke with the Arkansas Department of Health and discussed the air samples taken at the courthouse and enjoyed a sigh of relief. "We are below normal air samples. The lady from ABB wanted to close the jail down because we had one raw count of black mold," Willett said.
After speaking to state health authorities, Willett discovered that after cleaning and restoration, air samples would be the same. "You can clean and have restoration work and as soon as you open the doors you will be back to these (mold) levels or less," Willett said. "It can be tracked in by foot, just open the door and it can come in."
"The raw count inside my office was eight and in the air outside it was almost 800," Willett said. "My question was, do we have to stay inside or is it safe to go outside?"
"Richard Stewart with OSHA did a report on March 13 and said he had no concern about any problem in our jail. Our levels are all below normal. He told us he would be the guy that closes the jail, not anybody else. He is officially the person who will sign the papers," Willett said.
"Mold is everywhere. I found that out while we were doing this research," Willett explained.
While authorities note that mold has to have moisture to survive, Willett said the county recently received approval for a grant to put a new roof on both the federal building and the jail.
Along with fixing any leaks, windows and other areas where moisture would have an opportunity to collect, will be replaced and sealed, according to Willett.
With new sources of information saving the county from a financial calamity, Zimmer said he was confident and relieved.
"What we are going to do is just get the leaks fixed, change what we need to change, and wash everything down with soap and water. That's what the state wants," Zimmer said.
With cleaning underway, Willett said the jail will be open and ready for inmates before Memorial Day.