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Johnson County to spend $1.7 million to fix mold in empty building

Reluctantly, county commissioners voted 5-2 last week to spend reserve funds to address the mold at the site.

The building has had multiple uses over the years

Several commissioners questioned whether the repairs would be worth the cost, given the building’s age and past problems, but assured the repair was the most cost-effective way to handle the immediate mold problem.

The 17,000-square-foot facility was built in 1996 and purchased by the county in 2005.

It has had several uses since then, most recently for training at the sheriff’s office.

The roof was only redone last year.

During recent exploratory work for scheduled maintenance of the windows and building envelope, inspectors found evidence of leaks and 13 areas of widespread and visible fungus.

Indoor air quality also showed elevated mold spores possibly due to the leaks, said Brian Pietig, interim director of facilities management. Pietig added that the dampness was more likely from the lack of a vapor barrier than from further roof problems.

The sheriff’s office may be calling for a new building soon

Complicating the decision was the fact that sheriff’s officials are considering a request for a new building in a few years.

Hayden told the commissioners his office is spread across eight county buildings, most of which have been converted. Operations are currently based at the New Century Air Center.

Pietig said a future capital project under discussion for 2026 could include a 70,000-square-foot building for sheriff’s training, which could cost about $45 million.

Before that can happen, though, the county would need to conduct a study.

Hayden defined mold remediation as “sending good money after bad.” The building, she said, “wasn’t a big building to begin with,” and his office has already outgrown that.

He also said the roof leaked for five years before being replaced.

“The facilities department hasn’t done a very good job of maintaining what we have and this is the result of that,” he said, suggesting the commissioners could cut their losses by completely demolishing it and selling it for commercial property to put it back on the tax roles.

County Executive Penny Postoak Ferguson said she disagreed with Hayden’s claim that the building had not been properly maintained, but did not go into detail.

Pietig said other options, such as renting more space or building a new training site, would be no cheaper than repairing the mold.

The commissioners had questions about spending

Commissioner Michael Ashcraft, who along with Commissioner Charlotte O’Hara voted against funding the works, questioned the county’s return on the cost of the repairs.

“What guarantee do we have that the $1.7 million sinking will be a value-added return for us over some other option?” said Ashcraft.

Others had similar questions, but said getting rid of the mold still needed to be done quickly.

“No matter what we do with this building, it needs to be brought to a safe level of maintenance,” said Commissioner Janeé Hanzlick.

Commissioner Shirley Allenbrand agreed, based on assurances that the building has “good bones” and can be useful in the future.

President Mike Kelly said whatever happens with the building in the future, the mold will need to be addressed.

Roxie Hammill is a freelance journalist who writes frequently for the Post and other Kansas City-area publications. You can contact her at [email protected].

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