Asbestos, lead-based paint, mold found in courthouse No action taken on warnings, remediation recommendations

Paula Merritt / The Meridian Star

A close-up of the peeling green paint on the first floor shutters of the Lauderdale County Courthouse that tested positive for lead-based paint.

The latest Lauderdale County Circuit Court Grand Jury strongly urged the Board of Supervisors to have air quality, mold and asbestos inspections done inside the county courthouse and have its findings released to the public within 30 days.

As it turns out, those inspections were conducted a year ago at a cost of $10,700 to county taxpayers.

The one paper copy of the report was turned over to LPK Architects, which is under contract to advise the Board of Supervisors on its options for renovating or replacing the courthouse. The report was not released to the public nor even to the people who work in the building, and it is not clear to what extent the supervisors themselves read the report.

After repeated requests to the county administrator, The Meridian Star finally was able to review the report in March at LPK Architects.

The Pickering Firm, of Flowood, recommended limiting time in the basement, cleaning the ventilation and removing water-stained ceiling tiles due to mold. There is no indication the county followed that advice.

Details of the findings, which turned up mold, asbestos and lead paint, can be found in a report by Whitney Downard today in The Meridian Star.

The Pickering report identifies numerous precautions contractors must take when renovation on the courthouse begins.

Knowing details of the reports warnings would be useful information to those who work and visit the building so they may understand their own risks.

Downard found similar reports at courthouses in New Orleans and Fayetteville, Kentucky resulted in emergency closures of those buildings.

Yet Lauderdale County Courthouse workers report to work each day oblivious to the extent of the hazards surrounding them.

We can’t imagine any private employer taking such risks with its workers or visitors to their facilities, not only out of concern for those people but also out of fear of being shut down by OSHA or of having to respond to litigation when someone is injured or becomes ill.

The conditions and concerns over the courthouse have been well-documented by grand juries and The Star, especially over the last two years.

We understand the timidity of the supervisors over spending taxpayer money. We understand their mantra to avoid throwing good money after bad. We understand this problem they inherited from previous boards may cost $40 million to fix.

We can’t understand, however, taking the risk of sending people into that building each day.

Yes, the supervisors are the stewards of the taxpayer’s money, but they also are stewards of the county's human resources.

If decisions have to come down to money, follow the advice we’ve already paid for and act on it. Consider the potential greater risks of someone becoming ill or injured in a building so well documented as dangerous.

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