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Steps taken to prevent further illness at Public Safety Building

Mitchell public safety workers have taken steps to prevent further carbon monoxide problems while they wait for the installation of a new boiler. The door to the existing boiler room has been closed and locked, and the number of carbon monoxide d...

Mitchell public safety workers have taken steps to prevent further carbon monoxide problems while they wait for the installation of a new boiler.

The door to the existing boiler room has been closed and locked, and the number of carbon monoxide detectors throughout the Public Safety Building, located at 201 W. First Ave., has been increased to nine.

If dangerous carbon monoxide levels are detected, people will be removed from the area and efforts will be made to immediately ventilate it, said Public Safety Chief Lyndon Overweg.

"It's just part of the negative pressure we have in this building," Overweg said Tuesday. "We've had problems with sewer gas and different types of things like that before."

"Negative pressure" exists when less air is supplied to a space than is exhausted from it. Monday evening, Overweg told the City Council that negative pressure had recently caused high carbon monoxide levels in the Public Safety Building.

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After the council meeting, The Daily Republic asked Overweg if the carbon monoxide had harmed any public safety employees. He said three employees underwent medical treatment for what he believed to be carbon monoxide poisoning. He declined to divulge further information, citing concerns about the employees' privacy.

At Overweg's request, the City Council conducted the first reading Monday of an ordinance that would supplement the city budget with $15,000 for a new boiler to partially address the problem. The second reading and final vote on the ordinance will likely occur at the next council meeting March 2.

The existing boiler is in the basement on the east side of the building. The new boiler will be on the west side of the building, inside the garage area. The boiler's purpose is to heat the floor where the fire trucks are stored.

The high carbon monoxide levels occurred when the negative pressure in the Public Safety Building pulled air from the boiler system into the building, Overweg said. A new boiler in a different location is expected to partially address the problem.

The second part of the solution, Overweg said, is to buy new rooftop heating and cooling units that will continuously introduce air into the building. He plans to request $120,000 for that project, possibly during City Council budget hearings this summer.

The negative-pressure problem apparently dates to 1998, when the city's old fire hall was renovated and expanded to create what is now known as the Public Safety Building. The structure houses Mitchell's police, fire, ambulance and emergency communications workers.

Original bids on the building's renovation and expansion came in about $600,000 over the $1.5 million budget in 1998, prompting the City Council and its architect, Koch Hazard Baltzer, to cut costs. Some at Monday's City Council meeting speculated that those cost-cutting moves were to blame for the building's ongoing problems.

Besides the carbon monoxide problems, the building has had a continually leaky roof and has suffered from sewer gas infiltration and electrical problems, Overweg said.

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Tim McGannon, the city's public works director, said some of the problems likely stem from the age of the original fire-hall structure, which reportedly dates to 1921. There are many modern uses in the building that require venting, he said, such as bathrooms and showers and kitchen appliances. Plans made during the expansion and renovation to address negative pressure apparently fell short.

Past City Council members should not take all of the blame, McGannon said.

"I think they cut expenses to get back within the budget. I don't think they knew they were cutting corners that were putting anybody in danger. We rely on engineers and architects, and something went wrong."

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